Observer records evidence of 22 avalanche slides near Steamboat Lake
February 26, 2012
Steamboat Springs — High winds that roared over the mountains surrounding Steamboat Lake on Saturday left behind nearly two dozen reminders of the weakness of Colorado's snowpack.
Avalanche expert Art Judson traveled to North Routt on Sunday morning and recorded evidence of 22 avalanches he estimated were all naturally triggered Saturday by the heavy winds that had gusts up to 43 mph at a monitoring station about a quarter of a mile north of the ranger station at Steamboat Lake State Park.
"It shows the snowpack was critically unstable during the wind events, and that the sites that didn't respond to the wind are still primed for release," Judson said about the avalanches.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center's forecast for the Steamboat zone, which includes the Flat Tops area and Park Range, on Sunday rated the danger for slides in the area as considerable. The forecast stated the large storm system that dumped 2 to 4 feet of snow on the mountains last week triggered a large avalanche cycle, and there is a potential for backcountry users to "trigger large to very large avalanches on wind-loaded slopes.
"This snowpack requires respect. Approach steep terrain conservatively. You need to be very careful in your route and terrain selection today," the forecast warned. It also noted Fish Creek Canyon also has shown evidence of a recent avalanche cycle.
Judson, a retired avalanche researcher, said the avalanches he saw evidence of on peaks in North Routt including Saddle Mountain and Sand Mountain had fracture lines that ranged from 2 to 6 feet in depth, and some of the slides ran as far as 700 vertical feet. The avalanches were a mix of hard and soft slabs, and were between 100 to 600 feet wide, Judson said.
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He added an avalanche observer reported an additional slide that likely occurred last week on the east side of Hahn's Peak that had a 6-foot fracture line and ran 1,650 vertical feet into the timber below.
"They were all big enough to kill somebody, and all naturally triggered by yesterday's wind events," Judson said about the slides he observed. "I would avoid any slopes 30 degrees and steeper."
Snow in forecast
Meanwhile, forecasters with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction are calling for at least two more snowstorms to this week to impact the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs.
Weather Service forecaster Tom Renwick said a storm expected to move into the Steamboat area Monday night could leave behind 6 to 10 inches of snow at altitudes above 7,500 feet by Wednesday. But Renwick said the San Juan range in southern Colorado is forecasted to experience the brunt of the storm and receive a forecasted 10 to 20 inches of snow starting Monday.
Monday's forecast for downtown Steamboat calls for a high of 41 degrees, and minimal snow accumulation. Forecasters also are calling for a storm to enter the area Thursday night that could drop another 6 to 7 inches of snow in the mountains.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com