Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Temporal evolution of slab and weak layer properties during the transition from dry to wet snowpack conditions

October 8, 2023

Wet-snow slab avalanches are destructive and may become more prevalent in a warming climate. This type of avalanche remains challenging to forecast because the underlying processes leading to wet-snow slab avalanche release are poorly understood. In this study, we examine the temporal evolution of weak layer and slab liquid water content (LWC), critical cut length, and propagation saw test (PST) results during the season's first critical melt period at our study site in the Madison Mountains of southwest Montana. We used snowpack profiles and in-situ weather station data to initialize and force the 1-D physics-based snow cover model SNOWPACK throughout the winter and spring seasons. We then used a high-resolution numerical weather model to force SNOWPACK simulations to forecast the onset of the transition from dry to wet conditions. From April 10-12, 2023, we conducted 67 PSTs, 1053 LWC measurements, 20 hardness profiles, and a full snow profile each morning and early evening. During the first two days of sampling, we observed a transition from low to high propagation propensity with decreasing cut lengths and increasing LWC. On Day 3, we observed consistently low propagation propensity, even as LWC levels remained elevated and comparable to the preceding period of high propagation propensity. This indicates that there is a point where the relationship we observed through the first two days between increasing LWC, increasing propagation propensity, and decreasing cut length no longer holds. Our results further suggest PST propagation mode may help pinpoint the onset, peak, and decline of wet-snow fracture propagation propensity.

Publication Year 2023
Title Temporal evolution of slab and weak layer properties during the transition from dry to wet snowpack conditions
Authors Josh Lipkowitz, Erich Peitzsch, Jean Dixon, Marcus Kalb, Douglas McCabe, Griffin Ditmar, Christoph Mitterer
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70249583
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center