Weekend storms expected to considerably increase avalanche potential

Feb 12, 2021, 7:34 PM
Avalanche danger is considerable in the Northern Mountains today....
Avalanche danger is "considerable" today. Photo credit: Summit County Sheriff's Office, file.

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s already dangerous avalanche picture is expected to get much worse over the next several days.  Meteorologists are predicting back-to-back snowstorms, stacking new powder on top of a weak snow base.

Three storms in seven days.  That’s what the National Weather Service was predicting for Utah, starting Friday.  They first brought valley rain and mountain snow, and the weekend’s storm is expected to bring more of that.  However, the third storm will likely be the coldest, and is the most likely to drop snow on the valley floor and leave a lot of powder on the mountains.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Christine Kruse says, “The next storm looks like [it will drop] a foot, or so.  The storm after that, maybe a little bit more with a foot to two feet of snow.”

Kruse says these storms are expected to hit all across Utah, acknowledging it has been a while since we’ve seen this level of activity.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve seen this winter, where we’ve had a pattern precipitation over a seven day period.  It’s looking [to be] around, widespread, two to three inches of water in the mountains,” Kruse says.  Some areas near the ski resorts may see up to five inches of water

The water content is what has avalanche forecasters especially worried.  We should have a lot more snow in the mountains than we actually do, and the snow that’s up there is weak and sugary.

Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center says, “We’ve got this super fragile, shaky foundation and we are loading it with a series of storms.”

Gordon says the conditions were already at the “tipping point” for avalanche potential before these storms arrived.  He compares it to a house of cards that has a rug being pulled out beneath it.  If avalanches do happen, Gordon says they will likely break wide and will reach far.

“If something breaks close to the ground, it takes out the entire season’s snowpack, that’s going to be several football fields worth of snow crashing down on top of you,” he says.

Gordon says anyone considering a trip to Utah’s backcountry should look up the Utah Avalanche Center’s forecast before they go.


Other Reading:

 Avalanche report reveals details about avalanche in Millcreek Canyon

Utah avalanche danger still high with weekend snowstorms

Victims’ bodies recovered after fatal Millcreek avalanche

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Weekend storms expected to considerably increase avalanche potential