Though the season has only just begun, behind the scenes at NWAC we’ve been working for months to roll out a number of big changes. Some of these projects have been underway for over a year, and all were made possible thanks to community support. To learn more about this season’s changes, including new staff, forecast process updates, observations, and an all-new app, read on!
We’ve got some new faces at NWAC!
Liz Daniel – Development and Communications Manager
Liz is the person behind much of our fundraising efforts and communication strategy. She’s responsible for implementing our fundraising campaigns and events – including Snowbash, NSAW, and more! Liz brings with her a background in non-profit operations, including 5 years at the Snow Leopard Trust, where she aided in snow leopard conservation endeavors through grant management and donor relations.
Devon Schoos – Education Coordinator
Devon coordinates our hundreds of educational offerings, including avalanche awareness classes, professional mentorship programs, Laying Tracks, and more. She also coordinates all of NWAC’s volunteer forces. Devon has worked in outdoor education since 2018, both in the field as well as in program coordination and management. She’s worked in a variety of roles, from climbing instruction and ski patrolling, to managing backcountry expedition programs for youth and other outdoor education programs.
Cauri Hammer – Membership and Communications Coordinator
Cauri coordinates all things communications at NWAC. She crafts blog articles, social media posts, and emails, including the Backcountry Bulletin you receive each Friday. Cauri brings experience working in various outdoor-focused spaces, most recently the Northwest Outward Bound School (NWOBS), where she was the main point of contact for Washington applicants and their families as they prepared for NWOBS’ wilderness courses.
Of important note – 100 % of our forecast staff returned this year. While we hope to add our team in the future, this allows us to ramp up faster and implement new projects.
Morning Forecast Update Time
NWAC is one of three centers in North America that publish their forecasts in the evenings. An evening publish time allows users to plan for their days out the night before. It also means that if the weather doesn’t align, we might need to update the forecast.
This season we’re formalizing and publicizing a 7:30am forecast update time.
If we need to update a forecast, it will happen at 7:30am. So, in addition to trip planning the night before, we encourage you to get in the habit of checking the forecast at 7:30am to check any updates.
Changes to Elevation Bands
The way elevation bands are represented and categorized has changed for the 2023/24 forecast season.
We constantly evaluate our forecasts and how we’re doing as communicators. For years, we’ve known that our elevation band labels Above, Near, and Below Treeline have been problematic. They’re vague, confusing, and can lead to inconsistencies by the user and even by our forecasting team. One of our goals is to demonstrate how avalanche danger changes over vertical space. We want to communicate this concept in a straightforward and consistent fashion.
So, this year, we joined several other centers in using the elevation descriptors Upper, Middle, and Lower Elevation and providing elevation numbers for each band. We utilized concept models to create the elevation numbers for each zone.
We hope these numbers more clearly communicate how we visualize danger in terrain and provide consistency. It is essential to recognize that these numbers are “fuzzy.” We know avalanche danger doesn’t change on a magic line, so while using elevation numbers helps us be clearer– remember– nature can’t be put in a neat box.
The following video provides essential details about elevation bands and using them to identify and reduce risk in mountain travel. We encourage you to become familiar with the new elevation bands and watch this video for more information:
Changes to the Observation Platform
New Observation View & Visualization Tools
We rely on observations from our community to build the avalanche forecasts. Observations also help you build your concept of current conditions. This season, we are taking yet another step toward making it easier to submit and view observations.
We’ve worked with the National Avalanche Center for the past two years to develop a new Observation Platform. Now there are two forms, one short and one long, where you can submit various amounts of detailed information. In the long form, you can submit an avalanche observation to our avalanche occurrence database. Adding to the avalanche database is incredibly powerful, since we all know one of the greatest clues of hazard is recent avalanches.
Not only can you spatially see observations and avalanches on a map, but the new visualization tools also let you dig into the details of where exactly avalanches are occurring. You can query each of these tools by zone, date, trigger, size, elevation, or by scrolling in the map. If you want to revisit a specific query for your zone and specific preferences, you can bookmark that query and come back to it over and over throughout the season.
Observations help shape your plans and provide additional details to an avalanche forecast. Learn more about the new observation view and visualization tools:
The new Observation Platform is just one part of a much larger project that NWAC contributes to along with the National Avalanche Center. The Avalanche Forecasting Platform (AFP) is a web-based tool our team uses to build forecasts, track observations, manage media, help display weather stations, and issue avalanche warnings.
As this platform has grown and been refined, we’re excited to say of the 22 avalanche centers in the US, 17 of them will be using the AFP this winter. This means we’ll have 17 centers where the avalanche forecasts products, including graphics and layout, look exactly the same. This helps users learn and apply forecasts across the country.
Changes to Our Technology: Introducing the Avy App
And finally– we built an app!
In late November 2023, we launched a purpose-built mobile app, called Avy, that allows users to access weather and avalanche information for NWAC and the Sawtooth Avalanche Center (SAC). The app provides a streamlined user experience for your core trip planning tools, including avalanche forecasts, weather forecasts, weather station data, and observations. Over the coming years, we hope to add the majority of avalanche centers across the country to the Avy app.
Avy was funded 100% through individual giving to the Northwest Avalanche Center. We are grateful to be part of a community that allows us to make ambitious projects like this happen!
Read more about why we built the Avy app and how it improves your experience in our blog.
A huge thank you to our community for making all of these developments possible!