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Elevated avalanche danger in Colorado because of low snow

Posted at 6:40 PM, Jan 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-01 20:52:35-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Most associate avalanches with a lot of snow. It often happens that way, but danger in late December and heading into January 2021 is because of small infrequent snow storms.

Snow scientists at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center want anyone thinking about heading to Colorado’s high country to understand the current issue. They have posted a couple of videos on their website explaining what is causing the danger.

The trouble is with two layers of snow from earl season storms. One small storm at the end of November that sat exposed until another storm weeks later that also went weeks without another snowstorm. The pattern caused unstable base layers. "Sat there and got weaker and so now that we're putting more snow on top of it, whether it's from the wind or snowfall from the sky, we're getting a slab on top of these weak layers and the snowpack is really dangerous right now," said Avalanche Forecaster, Mike Cooperstein.

Since mid-December four people have been caught and killed in avalanches. The sizes of the slides have been small compared to the type of avalanches that happen later in the season. "For sure people need to be aware that slopes steeper than 30 degrees or really steep can be dangerous." The momentum of even small slides builds enough snow to bury and trap someone who is unable to get out of the way.

Most of Colorado’s mountain areas are currently designated at “considerable” avalanche danger. Cooperstein said, "What we're advising people to do is really just stay out of that terrain right now until the snowpack has time to stabilize." Unfortunately, it is looking like that could take a while. "Eventually it will. We need more storms. We need to get a little more weight on that snowpack." The weight of more snow will pack down those unstable layers and make them less likely to give way.