Glide avalanche response to an extreme rain-on-snow event, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, USA

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Geological Sciences

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Rain-on-snow events trigger immediate and delayed avalanches as liquid water penetrates the snowpack. We present results from an extreme rain-on-snow event that triggered a glide avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, USA. Snoqualmie Pass recorded 463 cm of snowfall from 13 December 2008 to 6 January 2009. This period of snowfall was followed by a strong southwesterly tropical flow that resulted in an extreme rain-on-snow event. Sensors at Snoqualmie Pass recorded 285 mm of precipitation over a 52 hour period. Flooding, slush flows, landslides and avalanches resulted from the influx of precipitation. Snow heights decreased rapidly over the period, with settlement rates approaching 80 mm h−1. Liquid water infiltrated and flowed through the snowpack within a few hours of the arrival of rain, yet many of the major avalanches occurred 12–30 or more hours after the onset of rain and water outflow. A glide avalanche occurred ∼30 hours after the onset of rain and the establishment of drainage through the snowpack. Increasing glide rates correlate with periods of rapid snow settlement. Here glide rates approached 670 mm h−1. Although glide and settlement rates increased during periods of intense precipitation, glide failure occurred 8 hours after peak precipitation and outflow.


This article was originally published in Journal of Glaciology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

A version of this research was previously presented at the International Snow Science Workshop, Davos 2009.

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Journal of Glaciology


© International Glaciological Society 2011