Flathead Avalanche Center Issues Backcountry Warning

Forecast says temperatures and rain on snow have combined to create unstable snowpack conditions in the Whitefish and Flathead ranges as well as Glacier National Park

By Tristan Scott
Avalanche field above Going-to-the-Sun Road near Haystack Creek Falls in Glacier National Park on April 24, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In its inaugural daily forecast of the 2023/24 winter season, the Flathead Avalanche Center (FAC) on Tuesday morning raised its backcountry avalanche danger to high while issuing avalanche warnings for the upper elevations of the Flathead and Whitefish ranges, as well as in the Lake McDonald area of Glacier National Park.

“Very dangerous avalanche conditions exist,” according to the FAC warning issued at 7:07 a.m. Tuesday. “Warm temperatures and rain on snow are creating widespread areas of unstable snow. Avalanches can break wide distances and can run into terrain with minimal snow cover. Give all avalanche terrain a wide berth today.”

FAC first issued an avalanche watch on Monday as a warm and wet storm swept across its forecast region. As the storm developed overnight, rain on snow raised avalanche conditions as predicted, increasing the likelihood and size of triggered and natural avalanches.

The avalanche warning remains in effect until Dec. 6 at 7 a.m.

“Backcountry travelers are very likely to trigger slab and loose snow avalanches,” the FAC warning states. “Natural avalanches are likely. Avalanches may run into mid-elevation terrain.”

On Tuesday morning, radar imagery showed widespread precipitation associated with an atmospheric river moving across eastern Washington into northwest Montana, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. Snow levels have climbed above 8,000 feet and will peak near 9,000 feet later this morning.

The heaviest precipitation (at least 3 inches) is expected across the Cabinet and Purcell mountains, with lesser amounts of up to an inch forecast across the Whitefish and Swan ranges, and in the Glacier region.

Starting today and continuing through early April, the FAC issues daily avalanche advisories for 1.2 million acres of public land. Forecasts with avalanche danger ratings and snowpack observations can be found usually by 7 a.m. on the FAC website: http://www.flatheadavalanche.org/

Avalanche danger varies daily, so it is advised to check forecasts regularly. FAC also offers avalanche conditions updates through email subscription. Sign up at: https://flatheadavalanche.org/newsletter/

Flathead Avalanche Center is a service provided by the Flathead National Forest, and is funded by the Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, the state of Montana, as well as through donations to Friends of the Flathead Avalanche Center (FOFAC). The Type 1 center staffs four full-time forecast and observer staff and provides daily avalanche forecasts for three geographic regions: the Swan Range, the Whitefish Range, and the Flathead Range and Glacier National Park.

“Avalanche condition information is important for anyone that plans to be in the mountains,” according to a Tuesday press release from the Flathead National Forest promoting FAC’s warning. “These forecasts provide current conditions, based on real-time observations of the snowpack for the Whitefish Range, Swan Range, Flathead Range and Glacier National Park. The daily forecast includes an overview and broad travel advice for three elevation bands as well as more specific avalanche information needed for specific trip planning decisions including where conditions may be most dangerous for a particular day, and what terrain offers the lowest risk.

Adult avalanche courses are available through FOFAC, providing education on essential avalanche skills and knowledge for a variety of skill levels. This winter, FOFAC is offering avalanche awareness courses, partner rescue clinics, motorized recreation training, and more. To register, visit: https://flatheadavalanche.org/education/avalanche-courses/