WEATHER

Avalanche danger entering unfamiliar territory as temperatures rise

Apr 5, 2023, 3:00 PM

a car drives in big cottonwood canyon, which closed today because of avalanche danger...

A service vehicle drives into Big Cottonwood Canyon after it was closed due to avalanche mitigation work, in Cottonwood Heights on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Spring weather is finally on the horizon for Utah, but it’s leaving some unknowns when it comes to avalanche danger.

On the heels of a huge winter storm, Salt Lake City could see a 20-degree warmup by Monday.

And if temperatures rise too quickly, it could increase the risk of avalanche danger.

“We are really deep into outlier territory right now,” said Jim Steenburgh, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Utah.

Normally avalanche danger drops after a winter storm if there are cold temperatures and little wind. But warm temperatures could destabilize the snowpack.

“If this were the middle of February, (if) it stops snowing … things would stabilize fairly quickly,” said Mark Staples, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. “We’re going to see things become unstable as heat and sunshine kick in.”

Staples said people should prepare for wet snow avalanches with rising temperatures. And this year the sheer amount of snow in the mountains could put more people at risk of slides.

“The potential for avalanches in unusual elevations is very real … in places where people may go casually hiking for example,” Steenburgh said.

Staples also said people should avoid tree wells in case of a slide and to be extra cautious. Even snow coming off of a roof could cause an avalanche.

With both a record snowpack and rising temperatures playing a role, be sure to check the avalanche forecast before recreating.

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