New Years storm brings snow, closes parks
by Nathaniel Smith
The Times-Independent
Jan 03, 2019 | 1940 views | 0 0 comments | 105 105 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The view of Moab from high on Sand Flats shows Moab coated in a blanket of snow on Dec. 31. Frigid temperatures under sunny skies are the current conditions, with a chance for snow showers on Sunday.            Photo by Nathaniel Smith
The view of Moab from high on Sand Flats shows Moab coated in a blanket of snow on Dec. 31. Frigid temperatures under sunny skies are the current conditions, with a chance for snow showers on Sunday. Photo by Nathaniel Smith

The latest report from the Utah Avalanche Center lists avalanche danger as moderate for the La Sal Mountains. The two factors of wind-drifted snow and a weak layer of snow buried beneath the surface are responsible for the danger.

Eric Trenbeath, who issued the forecast, wrote, “avalanche danger is moderate on steep slopes that have recent deposits of wind-drifted snow.” He warned, “Avoid slopes with a smooth rounded appearance or that show signs of instability such as cracking in the snow surface.”

Trenbeath added that there remains an isolated, or moderate danger for avalanches when stepping down two to four feet into “buried, persistent weak layers of loose, sugary, faceted snow.” Northerly facing slopes with steep or rocky terrain are the most suspect for that type of avalanche.

The report also included the announcement that Grand County plowed the Geyser Pass Road on the morning of Jan. 2. The gate where the La Sal Mountain Loop Road meets the Geyser Pass Road was shut to keep the road closed while the plowing was in progress.

“Dry weather with gradually warming temperatures will continue through the week,” Trenbeath wrote. He noted that the next chance for snow is likely on Sunday. He pointed out that northeast winds are increasing and average 15 to 20 mph along ridge tops. Clear skies will keep temperatures cold, likely in the single digits at 10,000 feet around Geyser Pass.

Though there was no recent avalanche activity to report, the problems of wind-drifted snow and a persistent weak layer of snow still deserve attention. “With our poor snowpack structure, the possibility remains for triggering an avalanche on a buried persistent weak layer of snow,” Trenbeath wrote, adding, “This is primarily a low-probability, but high-consequence situation.”

There is now a free avalanche course series developed by the Utah Avalanche Center available online. “This is a great way to refresh your skills or prepare you for a Backcountry 101 or Level 1 class,” said the announcement.

The snow report shared by Moab Gear Traders on Jan. 2, noted that the weather station near the Geyser Pass Trailhead says there is now 74 percent of the average snow water equivalent (a measurement of how much water is contained in the snowpack) for this year. At the beginning of the day on Jan. 2, the snow depth was just over 20 inches at Geyser Pass following the six inches that fell on New Year’s Eve. Grooming occurred on Jan. 1, so the trails are now rolled and packed.

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