Alex spends a solid hour to an hour and a half each morning he’s in the office simply gathering information as he prepares to write the forecast for the day. Ultimately, the daily forecast is the single most important piece the avalanche center and its forecasters produce. It contains a weather summary, links to current videos from the field, recent avalanche photos or observations, general color-coded danger levels, and most importantly, a snowpack discussion.
The snowpack discussion is broken down into the various regions of the forecast area and covers what avalanche problems readers should be most aware of and where these problems are most likely to be found. It is based on each forecaster’s personal observations, user-submitted observations, and of course, the observations of the other three forecasters which are cataloged in the aforementioned google doc.
“We [the forecasters] are communicating daily about the upcoming forecast and current conditions. Sometimes over the phone, sometimes in person. When conditions change, and specifically, when the danger level rises or lessens, we are all in even closer contact with one another.”
Satisfied with what he has written he dives into the more routine aspects of the early program. He calls into a local radio station to record the forecast summary and makes his own recording for the GNFAC website at the same time. He laughs while admitting that if you don’t get it the first time, it is almost guaranteed to take at least three more tries. I smile remembering my days as a snow reporter where I’d have to record the snow totals for a call-in line every morning. It’s then on to copying and pasting the summary into the proper locations, mainly the website and social channels. As long as the forecast is up by 7 a.m., all is well.
“We have five levels of avalanche danger, green is low, then moderate, considerable, high, and extreme. When conditions in our forecast area or specific ranges in our forecast area reach high levels of avalanche danger, we’ll issue an avalanche warning through the National Weather Service. This amplifies our voice and helps drive home the urgency and dangerous conditions that currently exist in avalanche terrain.”
Today, the entire forecast area has a rating of low. The spring can bring more general snow stability, but it is not without its own unique problems. Problems that Alex and the GNFAC team are constantly looking for and explaining how to avoid to a grateful user base.
The sun filters through the big glass windows as Alex finishes up his work for the morning. He examines his checklist closely. Even after doing the forecast over a hundred times, it’s important to scan the list to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.
It’s time for second breakfast, a Sunday morning nap, and maybe an afternoon of slushy turns up at Bridger Bowl for Alex. In a few days, he’s headed to Cooke City, the farthest extent of the forecast area and a popular ski/snowmobile-tourism destination. Like he said the day before, the forecasters go where the people are going.
Check out the Spark R&D Podcast for an interview with Alex and the GNFAC's Executive Director, Doug Chabot. If you'd like to learn more about the avalanche center or help support them, visit their website --> https://www.mtavalanche.com/.