New snow boosts Yampa Valley’s snowpack, elevates avalanche risk

A stop sign is caked in snow Tuesday, April 12, in downtown Steamboat Springs after a spring storm moved through the area.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Powder falling in the Yampa Valley this week is helping boost the area’s lagging snowpack, but it is also elevating the risk for avalanches.

Local Meteorologist Mike Weissbluth said that based on the powder cam at Steamboat Resort, the top of Mt. Werner has received around 26 inches of snow so far this week, one of the highest amounts for any ski area in the state. Steamboat Resort closed for the ski season on Sunday, April 10.

“The jet stream is pretty much directly overhead, which is creating windy conditions, and there is also moisture associated with it,” Weissbluth said.

The National Weather Service forecasts chances for more snow through the weekend. Weissbluth then expects a ridge of high pressure to bring warmer, sunny weather, but the wind will likely stick around into next week.

Snowfall this week has boosted the Yampa, White and Little Snake River Basin’s snowpack, and more snowfall could reset this year’s peak in the area’s snow-water equivalent. On March 25, the amount of water in the snowpack was equal to 16.9 inches, which would be the earliest peak since 2017 if it holds.

Throughout the spring, the snowpack declines as snow melts, but on Wednesday, April 13, the snowpack had rebounded to 16.5 inches with more on the way.

However, the new snow also is increasing avalanche conditions across the state with the Steamboat and Flat Tops region forecasted at a considerable avalanche risk, meaning that conditions are dangerous and cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are strongly advised.

Wind slab avalanches are a risk currently, with new snow blowing into large drifts on east-facing slopes. Persistent slab avalanches, where there is a weak layer buried in the snow, are also still a risk.

“Be particularly careful on north and northeast-facing slopes where new wind slabs now rest over this buried weak layer,” said Mike Cooperstein with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

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