It seems logical that if any of the lower 48 states were to have avalanches, it would be Colorado. But a report yesterday that the state has seen at least 348 of them since the first of March (one week) made my jaw drop. I’ve lived here for almost 15 years and don’t remember many winters when avalanches were even mentioned. The number undoubtedly includes smaller ones in the back country that wouldn’t normally be newsworthy … but 348 in seven days!?
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports that over the last six November-May avalanche seasons, the state has averaged 2,133 per season. This season, with 2 1/2 months to go, there have already been 1,800.
March 3, 2019
March 4, 2019
March 7, 2019
A number of the biggest ones have been deliberately triggered so that they wouldn’t catch motorists and outdoor enthusiasts off guard. Even so, one slide was much bigger than expected. Officials had expected some snow to cover the highway. What they got was 15 feet on the near side of the divided interstate, 8 feet on the far side, and all filled with debris. It took most of a day to clear the road, but hours-long delays have been occurring every day. Really “lucky” drivers have been delayed twice, by two different slides, before finally getting through the mountains.
Some sources say the heavy snowfall and high winds have created the most dangerous conditions in decades.
For those who don’t ski or travel, it makes interesting news. The deliberate slides are triggered with howitzers or explosives planted by hand, or sometimes dropped from helicopters. There are also some permanently installed devices that can be remotely detonated.
Also, many known avalanche chutes have names. An avalanche triggered this week in the “Disney slide” near Berthoud Pass was the largest there in 50 years. It was so named because Disney was filming a documentary there in 1957 when an avalanche killed two of the film crew.
For those who must drive into or through the mountains, the avalanche conditions are a major hazard, but skiers seem to think it’s well worth the risk. And for all of us, the many feet of snow mean the snowpack is well above average for the first time in years. Great news for Colorado’s water supply, and for those downstream in Arizona and California.