MYNORTHWEST WEATHER

Level 4 avalanche warning issued near Mt. Baker after heavy snow week

Feb 29, 2024, 7:56 AM

avalanche mt. baker snow...

Skiers ready themselves on top of Mt. Baker (Photo courtesy of Mt. Baker Ski Area)

(Photo courtesy of Mt. Baker Ski Area)

An avalanche warning has been issued in the area surrounding Mt. Baker due to high levels of snowfall on the mountain. The warning, specifically for the west slopes of the North Cascades, has reached a “high avalanche danger” rating.

“Very dangerous avalanche conditions,” the warning read. “Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.”

More on Western Wash. weather: Flooding possible as front moves through region

The avalanche warning system consists of five levels, from least to highest amount of danger. This current warning is a Level 4, meaning an avalanche is likely, according to avalanche.org. The significant difference between a Level 4 warning and a Level 5 warning is the latter states an avalanche is certain.

“An atmospheric river pattern along the Washington coast will bring in continued heavy mountain snow, heavy lowland rain and breezy winds through Thursday,” the National Weather Service (NWS) stated.

The ski area received 31 inches of snow this week and could receive as much as eight additional inches Thursday. The ski area will be open today, but officials warned people to be extra careful when skiing and snowboarding. The Mt. Baker Ski Area also warned potential skiers of snow suffocation.

“Snow suffocation hazard is due to deep snow immersion and/or tree wells may exist,” the ski area said on its website. “Avoid tree wells and keep your partner in sight.”

A snow suffocation accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls – usually headfirst – into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates. According to Deep Snow Safety, 90% of people involved in snow suffocation situations could not rescue themselves.

“If a partner is not there for immediate rescue, the skier or rider may die very quickly from suffocation,” Deep Snow Safety stated. “In many cases, they can die as quickly as someone can drown in water.”

Mt. Baker snowfall totals still low for February

While current season snowfall totals are not official until May 30, February 2024 has had some of the lowest totals of snow at Mt. Baker. With approximately 50-60 total inches of snow on the mountain by this week’s end, this month will still be one of two Februarys with under 100 inches of snow. 2015 had the lowest amount of snow in February in the last 14 years with just 18.5 inches, according to Mt. Baker’s snow report.

Contradictorily, this past January received the most snow in the last three years and the fifth-most in the last 10 years.

More on Wash. avalanches: The deadliest avalanche in U.S. history occurred at Stevens Pass

Mt. Baker Highway remains open, but with heavy snow conditions, expect compact snow and ice on the road. Chains were required traveling east or west for all cars and trucks except those with all-wheel drive.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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