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REMINDER: Avalanches still in season, tips on avalanche safety

Local News

UTAH (ABC4) – Though spring is almost around the corner, winter is very much still here and officials are reminding others, avalanches are still in season, February 28.

“People will likely trigger large avalanches failing 3 to 4 feet deep on a buried persistent weak layer if they venture into steep terrain, and natural avalanches are possible,” informs the Utah Avalanche Center. “Large and dangerous avalanches might be triggered remotely, from a distance, or below.”

According to the center, this weekend conditions in the backcountry are very dangerous due to heavy snowfall and drifting from strong west winds.

“There is HIGH avalanche danger on drifted upper and mid-elevation slopes facing northwest through the southeast. Avoid travel in avalanche terrain,” they warn.

Just last week, a 48-year-old Preston Idaho man was killed by a large avalanche on the east side of Sherman Peak in the northern Bear River Range, Bear Lake County, Idaho.

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, 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.
Courtesy: UTAH AVALANCHE CENTER
  • People caught in avalanches don’t die from lack of oxygen: Even dense avalanche debris is usually full of air. Those buried in snow are more likely to die from carbon dioxide poisoning which collects around their mouth.
  • 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.

Now that you know these facts about avalanches, here’s what to do if you become buried in one.

WATCH: Crews create controlled snow slides to prevent avalanches

American Fork Canyon Avalanche

What do I do if I become struck in an avalanche?

  • Act quickly because once the snow comes to a stop, the debris will harden, making it difficult to move.
  • Try to get off the slab.
  • Try to grab onto a tree.
  • Swim: Human bodies are denser than avalanche debris, but you will need to swim hard to stay above the snow.
  • Keep a clear air space around your mouth as the avalanche begins to decelerate to slow carbon dioxide from building up.
  • Push your hand in the direction that you think is up to provide a visual clue for those searching for you.

For more safety information, visit Utah Avalanche Center and ready.gov.

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