Denver, CO – The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) has issued avalanche warnings and advisories across the state as a powerful winter storm continues to batter the region with heavy snowfall and strong winds.
Northern Mountains Regional Discussion
In the Northern Mountains, particularly the Flat Top Mountains and Park Range, forecasters anticipate over 20 inches of snow, accompanied by strong winds, elevating the avalanche danger to HIGH. These conditions create very dangerous avalanche terrain, with advisories against travel in these areas. Natural avalanches are expected to run long distances into flat terrain, necessitating a wide berth around steep slopes.
Less snowfall is expected in other areas, but winds are likely to build stiff slabs over a weak layer buried last weekend. The slab building over the next 24 hours will test these weak layers, with areas like Jones Pass and Berthoud Passes already showing signs of avalanches running on buried weak layers.
Central Mountains Regional Discussion
Avalanche warnings are in place for the Grand Mesa, West Elks, Ruby and Raggeds, and Hunstman Ridge. The Elk Mountains are on the brink of a High (Level 4 of 5) avalanche danger but are currently at the upper end of Considerable (Level 3 of 5) due to slightly lower storm totals. The Sawatch Range remains at elevated danger levels due to the combined effects of new snow and strong winds.
Forecast zones under Avalanche Warning are expected to experience a widespread natural avalanche cycle, especially on wind-loaded slopes. Travel in avalanche terrain in these areas is strongly discouraged.
Southern Mountains Regional Discussion
The Southern Mountains face a significant threat as a broad low-pressure trough brings bands of heavy snowfall to the region. The San Juan, La Garita, and Sangre de Cristo Mountains have received significant snowfall, with the southern San Juans experiencing the heaviest accumulation. The Avalanche Warning and High avalanche danger have been extended through Friday morning.
Widespread natural avalanches are expected as the snowpack, already burdened with several weak layers, receives additional heavy snow. The incoming storm, characterized by snowfall rates of two or more inches per hour and strong winds, is likely to result in wide-breaking and highly destructive avalanches.
Safety Tips for Backcountry Travelers
Here are some tips and best practices to stay safe during this time of high avalanche danger across Colorado.
- Avoid Avalanche Terrain: Steer clear of steep slopes and areas under avalanche warnings.
- Carry Avalanche Safety Gear: Always have an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe with you and know how to use them.
- Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest avalanche forecasts from the CAIC.
- Travel One at a Time in Risk Areas: Minimize exposure by allowing only one person to cross an avalanche-prone area at a time.
- Recognize Signs of Avalanche Danger: Look out for recent avalanche activity, cracks in the snow surface, and the sound of hollow snow, which can indicate instability.
- Plan Your Route Wisely: Choose routes that minimize exposure to potential avalanche terrain.
- Know Your Limits: Avoid backcountry travel during high avalanche danger periods unless you are experienced and well-prepared.
As the storm progresses, residents and visitors in Colorado’s mountainous regions are urged to exercise caution and prioritize safety above all else.