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The relationship between whumpf observations and avalanche activity in Colorado, USA

October 8, 2023

Triggering whumpfs is a primary indicator of unstable snowpack conditions. Although backcountry travelers and avalanche forecasters rely on whumpfs as a warning sign of potential avalanches, there is little formal research to confirm this relationship. This study investigated the temporal correlation between whumpfs and avalanche activity in data from Colorado's Front Range and southern San Juan Mountains between the winters of 2010/11 and 2022/23. To assess changing conditions over a variety of seasons, we compared the timing of whumpfs and avalanches to the total snow depth at a representative site. We used a 13-inch (33 cm) rolling-window average snow depth versus the median for observed whumpfs, and small avalanches (D1 to D1.5), and large to very large avalanches (D2 and greater). Our results support informal observations that whumpfs are important indicators of avalanche activity, especially at shallower snow depths. Later in the season, when snow depths are deeper and basal weak layers become more difficult to trigger, whumpfs become less common even during periods of increasing avalanche activity. Some of our results may be due to the thin, weak, and wind-affected snow in the Colorado Front Range, where whumpfing typically occurs due to collapsing basal depth hoar. Our findings are important for backcountry travelers assessing stability and for backcountry avalanche forecasters communicating conditions to the public. Our data show that although whumpfs generally indicate unstable conditions and correlate with avalanche activity, the largest avalanches of the winter may not always be preceded by whumpfing.

Publication Year 2023
Title The relationship between whumpf observations and avalanche activity in Colorado, USA
Authors Jason Konigsberg, Ron Simenhois, Karl Birkeland, Erich Peitzsch, Doug Chabot, Ethan Greene
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70249586
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center