Sunny days after snowfall ripe for avalanches, experts warn

Dec 28 2012 - 11:55pm

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Utahns get a break from snowstorms this weekend, but temperatures aren't expected to get above the low 30s even though there will be ample sunshine.

The sunshine will make today a triple whammy for avalanches, officials say.

"Most avalanche accidents happen on the first sunny day following a storm. ... Add all the people who are going to head to the mountains, and it brings (the danger level higher)," Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, said Friday.

Most areas are rated "moderate" or "considerable" for avalanche danger, Tremper said.

Click here to learn more about avalanche danger.

 

Skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and snowmobilers will want to get in the mountains this weekend, he said, and even though many areas are perfectly safe, "there are monsters in the basement."

The existing snowpack in many areas has been covered with 2 to 3 feet of fresh snow, hiding warning signs of avalanche danger, Tremper said. Add people, and a human-caused avalanche could be triggered.

Preston Hudman, former president of the Golden Spike Snowmobile Association, said those wanting to hit the slopes this weekend should be prepared. He recommends packing a beacon, probes, shovels, tarps, ample water, rope, extra clothes, survivor sleeping bags, a lighter and a flare.

"I go prepared to spend the night," Hudman said. "I haven't had to yet, but you never know."

A beacon costs $250 to $500, Hudman said, but "what is your life worth?"

"If you happen to get buried in the snow, then we know where to start looking for you," he said.

No new snow is expected to come to Utah until possibly later next week, said Eric Schoening, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The highs for today and Sunday will be in the low 30s, with lows in the teens, Schoening said.

The temperatures mean the roads will still be slick in some areas, officials said.

The Utah Department of Transportation had 105 snowplows out on Friday, manned by 210 employees, said Vic Saunders, spokesman for UDOT.

In the Top of Utah area alone, the department clears 2,655 lane-miles of pavement, he said.

The state spends about $5.5 million on salt every year, amounting to about 210,000 tons.

According to the National Weather Service, Utah averages 25 to 40 winter storms annually. The Wasatch Mountains typically receive 450 inches of snow every year.

Operation costs average up to $1 million per storm.

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