Cascade Rainfall
6:17 am
Fri November 22, 2013

How Rain Strengthens The Cascades Snowpack

Recent rainfall is hurting Northwest ski areas’ chances of fully opening by Thanksgiving. But the rainclouds have a silver lining. Rain in the Cascade Mountains may help reduce avalanche danger.

Rain washes away lower elevation snow, but at higher elevations it helps form strong, stable snow layers.
Credit SoulRider.222/Flickr

Just a few days ago, early season skiing looked promising throughout the Northwest. But then freezing levels rose and snow turned to rain at many ski areas. Dave Tragethon is a spokesman for Mount Hood Meadows Ski and Snowboard Resort.

Tragethon: “We’re going to do everything we can to get open, even on a limited basis for the weekend. The thing that scares me is whether we feel we can sustain it — because I just hate opening and then closing.”

In the last 20 years, Tragethon has seen opening days range from early October to mid-December. Julie Koeberle is a government hydrologist who follows the snowpack closely. Koeberle says rain washes away lower elevation snow, but at higher elevations it helps form strong, stable snow layers.

Koeberle: “That’s going to be good in the long run because we don’t want loose, light, fluffy snow underneath a heavy, wet snow. And so that’s kind of the big key—you don’t want something heavy over something light.”

Starting the season with strong, stable snow is less likely to trigger avalanches. In the backcountry and at local resorts, avalanches can cause injuries or even deaths. As Northwest ski areas begin to open, eager skiers and snowboarders may not be praying for rain. But if this ski and snowboard season lasts through April, they may appreciate a stable, wet snowpack.

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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