Unstable snowpack lingers as mid-elevation melt looms (IR print copy)
Winterlike weather will tangle with a taste of spring this weekend in western Montana, threatening unpredictable avalanches and sudden flooding.
Cold conditions and regular snowfall in recent weeks have allowed a winterlike snowpack — rife with poorly bonded weak layers — to persist into spring. That means that avalanche problems and excellent powder skiing, more associated with mid-winter, are still present in the mountains across the region. In a public presentation Tuesday night, West Central Montana Avalanche Center Director Jeff Carty said that snow conditions were already spring-like this time last year. But this year, he said, “It’s been a pretty good winter and it continues to be winter … it just keeps snowing.”
But this weekend, valley temperatures will reach the low 60s, mountain temperatures could hit the 40s and rain could fall up to 7,000 feet elevation. That could lead to unpredictable avalanche problems involving heavy, wet snow. And it could result in a rapid melt-off of snow that causes flooding at lower elevations.
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Mountains across the region hold about the normal amount of water in the snowpack at high elevations. But snowpack at mid-elevation is