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SNOW MELT & DANGERS IN USA - Katie Bamber, Senior News Reporter
Thursday May 30, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

Deep snow lingers on as mountain resorts enter the summer season & activities commence. Debris, flood & wildfire threats persist. UPDATED


The United States Forest Service reports the Colorado road to the Maroon Bells is open.

Yet the trails are covered in up to 2m of snow and debris.

Not much biking, hiking or summer adventuring here any time soon.

Maroon Bells seen from Copter4 on June 12. Image Credit: CBSMaroon Bells seen from Copter4 on June 12. Image Credit: CBS

It was a desperately dry 2018 summer season in Colorado and Utah.

Hydrologists are welcoming the surge of melting snow from the Rocky Mountains after an incredibly snow winter 18/19 season.

Colorado received 134% of its normal snowfall.

Utah 138%

Resevoirs will fill, down as low as Arizona and at the Texas-Mexico border, aiding cities and farms that rely on these.

Rafting will have a boon season, with waters even being too wild to ride in some areas.

Snow melt USA Snow melt USA

The snow base in the Sierra Nevada more than double the average for this time of year.

Mammoth Mountain will ski into August.

But California has its own climate.

While the water feeds the state's 40 million residents, the wet forest and brush poses an even greater threat of wildfire.

The soaking wood will turn to scorched kindling as the desert heat rises, creating a dangerous blanket to the mountaineous area.

Drought fixed, but wildfire threat soars

Contrary to what we might think, wet winters don't lead to mild fire seasons.

Essentially, wet springs make way for forest fires as forest management is made much more difficult.

Extreme weather conditions hinder workers from clearing areas and putting out fires.

In the past week eight fires have started as temperatures reach high, very high for mid June.

It's a no win situation.

This year's wildfire season could be worse than last year's that ravaged California.

It saw the death of dozens and caused billions of dollars of damage.

marcuskauffman408760unsplash_500_01wild fire USA

JUNE 2019

Below we wrote about the floods in US states where snow melt is causing real concern.

The sheer amount of snowfall this May and indeed this past season was record breaking in many areas.

Avalanches have been occuring as temperatures rise and the heavy loads of snow and ice warm up - see below for more.

As these avalanches occur, they reveal the destruction beneath the snow.

Damage that can only be noted once the snow clears.

Thousands of avalanches swept down mountains during the winter.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife posted the aftermath of an avalanche on Red Mountain Pass in Colorado.

You can see below where trees were cut at their roots and debris piled on the sides.

Ever wonder what the mountain looks like following an avalanche and all the snow has melted away? 

Avalanche aftermathAvalanche aftermath

@COParksWildlife⁩Twitter @COParksWildlife⁩

The exceptionally snowy winter has created dangerous backcountry conditions.

Conditions that persist as mountain resorts head into summer.

Colorado's Silverton has reported on its difficulty in hosting a summer sports area for hiking, biking and off-roading whilst trying to keep visitors safe.

March saw avalanches rip down mountainsides.

These snow slides splintered whole forests of spruce and aspen trees, flattened cabins and closed roads and mountain passes for weeks at a time.

Safety is the priority.

But at the same time, the San Juan Country Sherrif Bruce Conrad reports, we can't kill our economy and tell people not to come.

Posted in Silverton 3 days ago Friday 7th June:

Posted from Silverton 3 days ago at Alpine LoopPosted by @Markpettus on Instagram

This 65-mile dirt road pictured above that links Silverton, Ouray and Lake City is usually open by now.

But crews are still digging it out from the snow and debris left by avalanches.

The remaining deep snow has led to the cancellation of summer events, and some hiking trails are expected to remain under snow for the whole summer.

"More than 20 feet of snow remained on June 2, 2019, in the wake of an avalanche that happened in Arrastra Gulch near Silverton back in March," reports The Colorado Sun.

The Ophir Pass is now open on the San Juan county side and it's a pretty epic sight:

Ophir Pass, SilvertonOphir Pass, Silverton

Avalanche & Flood Warnings in USA

People visiting the mountains this spring and summer are quite possibly going to be stunned as they head into the backcountry.

The season was record breaking in terms of snowfall for many mountain areas and ski resorts.

May was no exception, as temperatures stayed low and the snow kept on coming.

In Sierra Nevada in California there is 33 times more snow than this time last year according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

This year's April reading put the snowpack at 176% above average, making it the 5th largest depth with records going back to 1950, the Chronicle said. 

As the temperatures finally rise, and with summer underway (following the occasion of Memorial Day), concerns are rising.

Concerns over snow melt - the sheer quantity of snow that needs to melt will affect summer operations in mountain resorts.

Avalanches and floods are expected.

Telluride looking still very wintry on 20th May 2019Telluride looking still very wintry on 20th May 2019

'Water content of Colorado's snowpack raises flood concerns, with levels peaking at 728% in the San Juans'.

This is the headline of the Denver Post on Friday 31st May.

The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado are the most rugged and extensive mountainous region in the state.

A San Juan ski town you might know is Telluride.

Rising temperatures this week are expected to accelerate runoff, quite possibly triggering floods.

5cm of water could be melting off the snowpack a day, which is like getting 5cm of rainfall a day.

The snow water equivalent of 42cm is more than three times higher than the normal for 30th May.

It is more typically 11.5cm - 15cm inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Rising temps combined with a serious amount of snow caused a big issue in Montana's Rocky Mountains.

It was in the Glacier National Park with its glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border.

A rock-slide and avalanche stranded 13 cyclists for eight hours at the national park on Monday 27th May.

Park officials reported that the cyclists weren't harmed during the incident, apart from being cold.

The park closed the road to pedestrian and bicycle traffic after the significant rock-slide blocked the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier National ParkGlacier National Park

And back in Colorado, on North America's highest paved highway...

Highway 82 over Independence Pass opened Friday 31st May after a winter of avalanches and deep, deep snowpack.

It took months of clearup to open the road for summer use this spring.

The highway is known for its steep grades and hairpin turns.

The wind travels over the steepest part of Highway 82, that has a mile-long cornice hanging on a high cliff over the road.

The director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) has said teams trigger avalanches when nobody is around, both stray skiers and deer.

CAIC technicians toss charges out of a helicopter.

Small explosives are planted along the cornice and are detonated remotely in a helicopter, to try to manage the deep packed snow.

It is an important mountain conduit and a tourist destination in itself.

Preparing Independence Pass For Summer Travel Preparing Independence Pass For Summer Travel

 CDOT Helicopter plants charges to dislodge an overhanging cornice Credit Zoë Rom CDOT Helicopter plants charges to dislodge an overhanging cornice Credit Zoë Rom

Find out more about current conditions and ski resorts in the amazingly snowy Colorado Ski Country:
Brand new avalanche paths have buried sections of the Highway 82 in 12m of snow.

"The snow was so deep, the guys couldn't find the road," said a Colorado Department of Transportation representative, Tracy Trulove.

Green Mountain slide pathTracy Trulove on the Green Mountain slide path

 A loader, followed by a snowblower, make their way up the pass Credit Zoë Rom A loader, followed by a snowblower, make their way up the pass Credit Zoë Rom

The snow melt in the USA is exposing the many trees that were felled during the record number of avalanches this season in snowy states.

Underneath the snow is the graveyard of trees that couldn't stand the weight of snow on top, or streaming down during the winter/spring.

We'll be reporting on this further as the snowmelt reveals more.

While huge clearups are going on through the mountains, skiing is extending in many resorts further west.

Mammoth Mountain in California has announced it will keep its runs open into August, the third time in its history.

81cm has fallen in May alone (more than 18 metres has fallen this season at summit).

The latest ever closing date has been 13th August, 1995.

Mammoth Mountain, Tuesday 28th MayMammoth Mountain, Tuesday 28th May

Breckenridge in Colorado extended until the end of May, after fresh powder last week.

Then, 1st-2nd June and 8th-9th weekend will be open for skiing.

Read more in our updated report as skiing continues into June in the USA:
Breckenridge COBreckenridge extends its season

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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