Dangerous Avalanche Conditions in Sawatch Zone
As storm after storm rolls through Colorado, and the snow starts to stack up, so does avalanche danger. Yesterday the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) issued “a threat of dangerous conditions across the Sawatch zone,” which includes Leadville and Lake County.
It Doesn’t Take Much to Trigger a Slide: Field Report:
The recent rounds of snow storms, followed by some clearing with a slight increase in temperature, is exactly the kind of conditions which put back country adventurers at risk. As of today (12/26), avalanche danger was rated at 3 (Considerable), the middle of the road for the 5-point system. However, on Christmas Day, Dec. 25 CAIC did issue a SPECIAL AVALANCHE ADVISORY, covering most of the Colorado high country, including the Sawatch zone, which houses Leadville and Lake County.
The advisory runs through today (12/26) at noon and the official statement reads: The last in a series of winter storms arrives Friday (12/25). The pattern continues the threat of dangerous conditions across the Sawatch zone. A combination 3 to 4 feet of new snowfall and strong westerly winds created cohesive slabs at all elevations since the storm cycle began. Several large avalanches have run since Tuesday. Avalanche mitigation along the Highway 50 corridor triggered several avalanches during this cycle. More large natural and human triggered avalanches have been reported from the zone since December 20th.
Human-triggered avalanches are likely on steep slopes; natural and remotely-triggered avalanches are possible as well. Safe backcountry travel in the next few days will require cautious terrain choices. Stay off slopes steeper than about 30 degrees and avoid travel below large avalanche paths to avoid avalanches.
CAIC called for residents and visitors to: “expect dangerous avalanche conditions across much of Colorado. Back country travel is not recommended. Some avalanches may run long distances, possibly hitting valley floors in some places.”
Probably the best example of how an avalanche develops can be seen right out your car window. When air temperature remains low, the snow sticks to the surface and does not slide off. After the temperature increases, however, the snow will sluff, or slide, down the front of the windshield, often in small slabs. This is an avalanche on a miniature scale.
The most recent significant avalanche in Lake County was the deadly avalanche in February 2013, located west of the Village of Twin Lakes, triggered by back country skiers. READ MORE.
Since 1950 avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard, and in the United States, Colorado accounts for one-third of all avalanche deaths. Recent news reports have included officials doing “avalanche work” on some of the more traveled high mountain passes, like Loveland, located in neighboring Summit County. During these efforts, the focus is to trigger the avalanches in a controlled environment, before the snow comes crashing down on its own, possibly harming people or property. More than likely you’ll be hearing a lot more of these projects being conducted in the upcoming weeks, as officials do their best to keep everyone who loves to enjoy all the winter fun that comes with snow, safe.
About the CAIC: According to the CAIC website, the center began issuing public avalanche forecasts in 1973 as part of a research program, which became part of the Department of Natural Resources in 1983. The CAIC joined the Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway safety program in 1993. The Friends of the CAIC (a 501c3 group) formed in 2007 to promote avalanche safety in Colorado and support the recreation program of the CAIC.
In short, these are the people who regularly monitor conditions in the backcountry when it comes to avalanche susceptibility. And they know what they are talking about, so please take the warnings seriously as the local forecast call for yet another round of snow today, a slight reprieve over the weekend, and another round of storms forecasted for earlier next week.
While the CAIC does not report directly on specific conditions in Leadville and Lake County, these areas are included in the Sawatch Report. In addition, readers can find yesterday’s reports for neighboring Vail and Summit, as well as Aspen.