Avalanche danger moderate with snow on the way
summit daily news
The avalanche danger in and around Summit County fell this week to a rating of “moderate” near and above treeline and “low” below treeline after a few days at a “considerable” danger level, but a possible 10 inches of snow on the way for the higher elevations could increase the risk tonight and tomorrow.
“The avalanche danger has been slowly going down,” said Brad Sawtell of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Even when the avalanche danger is low, there is danger out there.”
But a high likelihood of snow today and tonight coupled with possible strong winds at the higher elevations could make avalanche conditions worse.
“Weather is the architect of avalanches,” Sawtell said.
Between 1 and 3 inches of snow are expected today. The valley could see 6 to 8 inches of snow by Monday afternoon, while higher elevations might get 10 to 12 inches of new snow in some places.
There is an 80 percent chance of snow through tonight and an expected low of 7 degrees with a wind chill value of -2.
Monday also has a 50 percent chance of snow and temperatures are expected to fall Monday night to an overnight low of -11, according to National Weather Service forecasts.
As of Saturday, avalanche danger for Summit County and Vail was rated at moderate near and above the treeline. The backcountry was covered with hard slabs with poor interfaces, according to the avy information center’s forecast.
“The riskier locations as far as elevation and aspect would be near and above treeline on the eastern side of the compass,” Sawtell said.
The moderate rating means avalanche conditions exist on some terrain features. While natural avalanches are unlikely, human caused slides are possible.
The rating is part of a new avalanche danger scale for North America. The new scale assigns a number to each of the five ratings to help overcome language barriers and has a new travel recommendations column. The language of the size and distribution column has also been tweaked.
Under the moderate rating small avalanches can occur in specific areas or large avalanches might be seen in isolated areas, according to the danger scale.
Those traveling into avalanche terrain are encouraged to evaluate the terrain and snow carefully and identify features that might be dangerous.
“The danger … can change every day,” Sawtell said.
Certain tools and precautionary measures can help mitigate avalanche danger. Summit County Search and Rescue Group mission coordinator Jim Koegel recommends carrying a beacon, shovel, probe and cell phone on all excursions into avalanche terrain, along with other survival supplies.
“Be prepared,” Koegel said. “Have something you can make a fire with in case you get stuck out there. Have a space blanket.”
Anyone planning to travel into backcountry terrain should also make sure that other people know where they’re going and are informed if those plans change, he said. This helps rescuers narrow down a search area should something go wrong. Signing in at the trail head whenever possible is also a good idea, Koegel said.
Unlike wildfires, it is not illegal to start an avalanche. Individuals are sometimes hesitant to give rescuers important information when an avalanche occurs because they are afraid there will be repercussions. It is a fear, Koegel said, that is unnecessary.
“It’s not a crime to get in trouble,” Koegel said.
Additional avalanche information, including daily forecasts and observation reports, is available at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website at avalanche.state.co.us.
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