Spring plowing operations have begun in Glacier National Park. Last week crews plowed to the camp store in Two Medicine and through Chief Mountain Road on the east side of the park. This week, plows will work on Many Glacier Road on the east side of the park, and Camas Road on the west side of the park, as weather conditions allow. The park is also using other snow removal equipment to remove snow from campgrounds and other visitor areas to speed spring melt.
This week, crews are also conducting routine plowing operations for areas typically open all winter, due to a spring season snow storm that arrived this past weekend. More snow is forecast for later this week.
Crews working in Two Medicine last week noted that snow drifts were up to 15-20 feet deep, including road and picnic areas. The bathroom was completely covered. On average, plows encountered snow depths of 7-10 feet. The east side of the park saw significant snow this winter. Numerous communities saw record or near record snowfalls.
Next week, west side crews expect to begin plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche, weather permitting.
The park has received a significant amount of snow over the winter and early spring. The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station shows observations that are about 125% of a 30-year average. According to data recorded at the Flattop SNOTEL station, this is the most significant snow year since 2011. The West Glacier Weather Station is showing approximately 127% of a 30-year average as of March 30, with this winter (in West Glacier) thus far being the eighth highest snowfall year since 1964.
An annual manual snow survey conducted near Logan Creek in late February showed more snow than has been recorded anytime over the last 30 years, including years of heavy snow like the winter of 1997.
As plows move up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, avalanche forecasters and technicians will monitor snowpack for possible avalanches to provide for crew safety. Due to the depth of this year’s snowpack and current weather patterns, the potential exists for wet slab and glide avalanches continuing later into the spring. While dry slab avalanches are often triggered by victims or someone in the victim’s party, wet slab avalanches are typically naturally occurring from prolonged melt or rain.
Visitors to avalanche country in and around Glacier National Park should continue to be alert to the possibility of avalanches, which are common in spring. Visitors are most likely to encounter dangerous avalanche conditions during spring storms (rain or snow events) or during periods of intense or prolonged warmups. Visitors hiking or biking up the Going-to-the-Sun Road in later spring should be aware as they enter avalanche country that they may be exposed to overhead avalanche hazards and should be aware of weather conditions that raise the possibility of avalanches including rain and rapid warming.
The park will continue to monitor road conditions and the rate of spring melt. If present conditions continue, campgrounds or individual campsites, roads, and other visitor areas and trails could open later in the year than average, depending on the rate of snow melt as spring progresses.
As crews begin work on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, photos will be posted on the park’s Flickr page. Photos from prior years are also available on Flickr.