Mar 11, 2020 -- Posted by : goi70

“At the end of February, the snowpack was strong and deep and looking really good. The only thing that could have kicked off a big cycle was a massive trigger or a huge snowstorm. And that’s exactly what we got.” Kreston Rohrig, who serves as the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s backcountry avalanche forecaster for the Vail and Summit County regions, shared these words last week with the Summit Daily.

When March’s avalanche season was all said and done, more than 1,000 avalanches were recorded in just a two week period. Thirty one people were caught in slides, killing two, critically injuring two more, and causing four other hospitalizations. Power lines were dragged down in five counties, ten structures were severely damaged, and local and state roads were closed for days at a time.

“As far as a historic cycle, it really was that,” remarked Rohrig. “For much of our staff, we’d never seen anything like it. And most of us don’t think we will again in our careers.”

A year removed; we look back. The following is a post from March 18, 2019:

Colorado has seen some very hairy snow conditions both on the highways and in the mountains this March. More than 100 inches of snowfall in the first two weeks of the month, triggered a volume of avalanches that many experts are saying has never been seen before. An avalanche in the Peru Creek area (east of Keystone) took out conifers that were more than 350 years old, and a more recent avalanche in Aspen – over a mile wide – knocked down thousands of old-growth trees.

There have been over 600 avalanches this March – a figure that has far exceeded predictions. While the month is not yet over, these onslaughts of snowslides have caused major closures and buried state and federal highways (including I-70, CO-91, US-40, and US-550) in snow depths between two, and up to fifteen feet in certain spots. In addition, an avalanche earlier this month ruptured a gas pipeline near Copper Mountain, causing a large natural gas leak. During incidents, many resorts were forced to restrict their hours and close in-bounds terrain. Heavy and loose snow in the backcountry have killed eight skiers this season, making this the most dangerous avalanche season since 2013/14.

This month we have witnessed the enormity of Mother Nature’s power in ways that Colorado rarely sees. The large and unexpected degree of impacts is leaving many wondering what happened. Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) told the Coloradoan that there are a couple of factors that contributed to the “perfect storm,” which set off this intense cycle of avalanches. Early season snowfall, followed by dry weather created a fragile base layer of snow. From then, consistent snowfall during January and February built a deep mid-layer (on top of the fragile base). Through this period, snowpack remained stable enough. The first two weeks of March saw major storms that dumped nearly 100 inches of snow on the mountains. The addition of this new, heavy snow, triggered the release of the fragile base layer, causing massive avalanches. CAIC’s Spencer Logan, told 5280, that wind may also have been a contributing factor that caused the snowpack to change rapidly, making conditions more unstable.

March is Colorado’s snowiest month and it is slated to wrap up smoother than it began, however it is important to note that avalanches are most common during the spring, and all outdoor enthusiasts should be cautious and aware before heading out. Please keep up-to-date with the CAIC Avalanche Forecast!

Stay safe and enjoy the backcountry.


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