Like a young man who’s just realized his choice to go commando in athletic shorts while hanging with his lady (whose parents are out of town), was a bad decision or an older gentleman who had big plans for the weekend but took it real deep Friday and has nothing left for Saturday... Early season snow is much the same; always initially very exciting, but the second its over, you get that “uh-oh” feeling.
The phenomenon of early season snow, now referred to as Premature Snow-pack-ulation, happens most every year in CO and it’s always a mixed bag. In high school getting the invite to your special lady-friend’s unsupervised home is a dream come true, but you had to go and shoot your rocks way too early and now you know its just one big disaster. Early season snow is just the same. When skies gray and snow starts to fly this early you can’t help but get washed over by your inner bro-ness and start to think, “Dude, its gonna be a biiiiiiig winter.” Then the next day the sun comes out, you realize it’s only October, and premature snowpaculation has “harshed your low” just like it did in high school (college for me).
But, I try to keep a positive attitude. We in CO see early snowfall every year so depth hoar will almost always be a concern. So, if we get early season snow every year and depth hoar is always a concern, then that’s our baseline and we should not complain. Instead lets all be psyched to be in this pattern of moisture AND use “The Secret” to start projecting that this is gonna be an EPIC winter!
Read below for more info on why early season snow is problematic and how it forms. Otherwise remember to be safe when you head into the backcountry whether its October or mid winter.
Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown on what happens and why with early season flakes. Snow is always undergoing change, referred to as metamorphism. One cause of metamorphism, the cause particularly pertinent to early season snow, is temperature gradient (tg). TG refers to the change in temperature over the depth of the snowpack.
image from fsavalanche.org
With early season snow, we have a little snow on the ground, the ground is warm and air temps are cold. The difference in temps from the ground though the snowpack to the air morphs the snow from rounds to facets. Facets are angular crystals that don’t bond well. So now we have this angular, rotten snow as our base and snow piles up on that… No Buene, Senior. No Bueno.
image from justgetout.net
Also, I should note this is particularly the case in CO because we have an intermountain snowpack. To read more about what that means click here.
Check this chart from the Utah Avalanche Forecasting center showing the percentage of avalanches by cause. Faceted Snow and Depth Hoar are the big winners by a long shot.
Keep the stoke. But remember who’s almost always sitting at the bottom.