Steamboat Springs Routt County Search and Rescue is on its toes as heavy snow and mild temperatures could mean an early avalanche season in the Yampa Valley.
Avalanches typically do not hit until March, but warmer temperatures expected this weekend could bring the season's first slides to Routt County, Search and Rescue member Darrel Levingston said this week.
"You get a lot of really light, fluffy snow when it's cold, and that doesn't pack down well - it's very unstable," Levingston said. "Once it warms up, the top layers will start to thaw and set up. So you have a really hard-packed layer of snow on top of a really fluffy layer of snow. That's what causes avalanches."
Although Routt County Search and Rescue has not responded to any avalanche calls yet this season, avalanche activity has been high across the country this winter, Levingston said.
"We already have as many avalanche-related deaths in America as we usually do for the whole winter," Levingston said. "And we're just starting to come up on what's traditionally avalanche season."
While 30-degree-plus temperatures were recently forecast for the weekend, more storms now appear to be on the way, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Colton.
The storm that dumped snow on Steamboat Springs last night is expected to peter out today but could be followed by a minor storm system aiming at Steamboat for Saturday night, Colton said. Saturday's storm will bring one to three inches of snow at higher elevations on the mountain and only a small accumulation in town, he said.
Despite the snow, daytime high temperatures are expected to hit 25 to 35 degrees Saturday and Sunday, he said.
A storm system Monday is expected to bring four to eight inches of snow, and yet another strong storm is expected to drop up to a foot of snow Wednesday, Colton said.
Avalanches are most common on slopes of about 30 degrees, which is not terribly steep, Levingston said.
"A lot of areas that people think are safe can really be a dangerous spot," he said. "It doesn't have to be really remote; you could be 100 yards from the road. It all depends on what happens with the snow and the slope."