Experts foresee late-season surge in avalanche danger
Ryan Summerlin April 14, 2013
Avalanche experts expect to see a late-season surge in avalanche danger today with a forecast of snow and wind in position to create easily triggered storm slabs in the Vail and Summit County zone.
“This is a rapid increase in avalanche danger, and you will need to reassess the snowpack and make conservative terrain choices until these storm instabilities subside,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Tim Brown stated in his Saturday morning report. “Don’t let your guard down because it’s mid-April and you expect spring conditions. The snowpack doesn’t know what date it is.”
One to 3 inches of new snow are possible today with increasing winds throughout the day and gusts upwards of 35 mph in the afternoon, according to National Weather Service forecasts.
Several skiers triggered wind slabs on Thursday and Friday when the avalanche danger was rated low or moderate throughout much of the Vail and Summit County zone.
The avalanche danger fell to low last week following an increase in temperatures and a break from heavy snowfall.
Avalanche experts have warned all season of a weak base layer creating instability and variable conditions in the backcountry, saying the potentially unstable foundation would stick around through the end of the snow season.
They say those deep persistent slabs are difficult to trigger, but can cause more serious slides.
Summit County is the second deadliest county in the state, behind Pitkin, in terms of avalanche fatalities and Colorado is the deadliest state in the country, according to a CAIC analysis of avalanche statistics between 1950 and 2012.
Local rescuers urge anyone who sees or triggers an avalanche to report it immediately to help prevent unnecessary and often expensive search operations.
“(We) want to know about these slides and strongly encourage all backcountry users to report them as soon as possible after they occur,” Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG) spokesman Charles Pitman stated. “Failure to do this leads to costly and time consuming efforts to make certain that no one was injured and/or buried.”
Unlike wildfires, causing an avalanche is not illegal.
But when an unreported avalanche is sighted, local rescuers, sometimes with the help of Flight For Life helicopter crews, launch a full-scale search response to ensure no people were involved.
Rescuers encouraged the public to report all avalanches not involving burials to the Summit county dispatch non-emergency number at (970) 668-8600 with the location of the slide, approximate time it occurred, the approximate size and the fact that no one was injured or buried as well as a contact number.
Call 911 in the event of an injury, burial or emergency.