High avalanche danger as mountains bulk up with snow

SEATTLE - Heavy mountain snowfall over the past week and a half has created a high avalanche danger in the Cascades - especially east of the crest - but at the same time it has eased fears of a low snowpack and potential water shortages, experts say.

The National Weather Service issued a warning for the eastern slopes of the Cascades through 6 p.m. Friday for "large and potentially destructive" avalanches in the backcountry in the eastern Cascades.

"The current very dangerous avalanche conditions are unusual and we are not recommending travel in avalanche terrain east of the crest until conditions improve," the Weather Service said in a special warning.

On the west side of the Cascades crest, the danger is less, but still "considerable," says Garth Berber of the Northwest Avalanche Center.

He said the center has measured seven to 12 feet of new snow in the mountains over the past 11 days - thanks to a relentless series of storms that follows a prolonged period of below-normal winter snowfall.

While the snow has raised the avalanche danger, it has bulked up the snowpack and eased growing fears of a water shortage in the summer.

Virtually every station in the Cascades and Olympics was reporting below-normal snowpack as of two weeks ago. But now many stations are reporting above-average snow depths. Some examples:

Paradise 106 percent of normal, Corral Pass, 104 percent, Meadows Pass, 115 percent.

Snowpack at Stampede Pass is still below normal - but it has risen from 59 percent to 76 percent over the past 11 days. Other stations have reported similar increases.