WASATCH, Utah (ABC4) – As winds pick up, officials are warning the public of possible avalanches.
On April 17, the Utah Avalanche Center shares that east winds are making wind slab avalanches reactive in central Wasatch.
But what is a wind slab avalanche?
Officials say wind slab avalanches are the release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) formed by the wind. Wind typically transports snow from the upwind sides of terrain features and deposits snow on the downwind side.
“The forecast didn’t mention winds this morning but reports of wind slabs mean you can now likely trigger wind drifted slopes at the upper elevations,” informs the Utah Avalanche Center.
Those heading in the area are recommended to take caution and stay safe.
“After the past few snowy days seen here along the Wasatch Front, we must remember the most important thing with avalanches. They usually are triggered once the snow stops falling and settles in weak layers such as the wind slabs observed on Saturday morning,” shares ABC4 Meteorologist Cesar Cornejo. “With the increasing sun angle along with those weak layers, backcountry skiers should be prepared when out on steep slopes in the most prone areas.”
(4/17/20) Heads up – East winds are making wind slab avalanches reactive in the central Wasatch. The forecast didn’t mention winds this morning but reports of wind slabs mean you can now likely trigger wind drifted slopes at the upper elevations. Pic: East Silver Fork 4/15 (fink) pic.twitter.com/zUzLXxi78v— UtahAvalancheCenter (@UACwasatch) April 17, 2021
According to UAC, though avalanches may seem to strike without warning, making avoiding one seemingly impossible, they are often triggered and there can be signs that one is about to happen.
Here are some interesting facts from the Utah Avalanche Center about avalanches that can help you be more prepared if faced with one:
- Avalanches are often triggered by people: In 90% of avalanche accidents, the victim or someone with the victim triggers the avalanche in some way. When natural avalanches occur, it is usually because snow is blown over weak layers of snow or rapid warming weakens the layers. In these cases, there are often clear signs that the snow is unstable.
- Avalanches are not usually made up of loose snow: Rather, dangerous avalanches are caused by plates or layers of snow which can weaken and shatter, causing them to slide. Avalanches made up of loose snow (called sluffs) do not often cause deaths or any notable damage.
According to National Geographic, these layers of snow can build up, and if the bonds between the layers are slick or weak, the added weight can cause the layers to slide off. Once the snow slabs get moving, they break into many pieces.
- Avalanches travel quickly: It can be very difficult to impossible to outrun an avalanche unless you are on a snowmobile. Even then, it’s not always possible. An average avalanche can travel about 80 miles per hour, while a large avalanche can travel faster than 200 miles per hour.
- For avalanche victims, the first 15 minutes are key: 93% of buried avalanche victims are found alive if they are rescued within the first 15 minutes. After 45 minutes, only 20 to 30 percent are recovered alive.
Though winter is over and Spring is here, snow is still in bounty on some mountains, so check Utah Avalanche Center for forecasts in your area before recreating.