As this Fall season is wrapping up, and Winter starts for many across the country, the threat for avalanches in states like Colorado increases. For those that experience them yearly, avalanches are scary, but an average part of life in the Winter months within this region and are to be expected. When planning a ski trip, having a game plan on what to do in an avalanche, especially for those not acclimated to the area or with skiing, is a necessity. In fact, having an avalanche game plan for Colorado is just as important as having a tornado-safety game plan for the Midwesterners and Southerners. So, what is an avalanche and what does one do when it happens?
An avalanche occurs most commonly in the Winter and is when a mass of snow, ice, and rock fall down a mountainside. Because they are unpredictable in occurring and how intense they can get, they are rather dangerous. Many variables can be the culprit of causing these nasty events, such as snowpack, weather conditions, or even the terrain. The three ingredients to avalanches are a surface bed of snow, an unstable layer of snow in the middle, and a snow slab overlaying the top. They can travel as fast as 100 miles per hour, so if a person tries to outrun one, they will not be successful. The most dangerous type of avalanche is when a large chunk of snow and ice becomes disheveled and tumbles down the mountain side; this type is typically the fastest and deadliest to be caught in.
There are three key zones in an avalanche, the starting zone, the avalanche track, and the runout zone. The starting zone is the area where the avalanche begins, typically higher on the slope. As it continues to flow down the mountain side from this point, it becomes the avalanche track and as it stops near the bottom of the slope, the pile of debris left behind is the runout zone.
The way to survive an avalanche if skiing or snowboarding is to ski/snowboard down at a 45° angle to avoid getting caught in it. If not skiing or snowboarding, or if one can’t get out of the way in time, reach and grab for trees and hold on tight. If there are no trees in sight, swim through the snow and stick one arm directly up because as the avalanche intensifies and gets to a settling point at the end of the mountain, it will condense like concrete and there will be no way to make any sort of movement. There are gadgets now that can send one’s coordinates constantly to other members of their group if they happen to be stuck in an avalanche so being located is much more probable. There are also dogs that rescue teams will use that are trained to sniff out anyone in avalanches if there is believed to have been someone that was caught up in it.
Avalanches are scary and can be very dangerous, but with knowledge and a game plan, they can be conquerable. They are similar to mudslides, but more deadly due to the amount of ice and snowpack that can occur in them. Whenever planning a trip to Colorado, make sure to stay on the slopes and avoid back country skiing unless one is a professional or an expert as to avoid any possibility of creating a man-made avalanche and never being found.
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©2019 Meteorologist Ashley Lennard
There are a number of hazards associated with snowstorms. Trees may fall down and take power lines with them. Roads and sidewalks may become slick and icy. Air travel may be halted, and of course – you may need to shovel your sidewalk. Although this is mostly considered a mundane, if bothersome and annoying chore, it can pose a very real health threat to some people.
Snow can be heavy, even if it’s just the powdery, “dry” snow. Wet snow is even heavier and more cumbersome to shovel. As many people know, shoveling snow is exhausting, especially wet snow. This overexertion, especially in the cold, is dangerous for the elderly and those living with cardiac conditions. The quick transition from sitting on the couch watching Christmas movies with a cup of hot cocoa to shoveling tens or even hundreds of pounds of snow can put a major strain on one’s heart. Cold weather can increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, and make blood more likely to clot – the main cause of a heart attack.
There are a few ways to keep your heart health in mind when faced with the task of shoveling snow. First, try warming up a little bit before starting to shovel. Not only does this prepare your body for the strain of shoveling, it might help get your muscles ready and alleviate aches and pains later. You could also fill your shovel a little bit less/more often, as opposed to shoveling fewer and heavier snow loads. Do you live on a street with an elderly person? Offer to take care of their driveway and sidewalk for them! Are you an elderly person? Offer a local teenager or college student home for break some money to shovel your sidewalk and driveway! More tips can be found at this link: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/protect-your-heart-when-shoveling-snow-201101151153
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
PWinter is kicking into full gear across much of the United States and many have already seen their first significant snowfall and snowstorms. Driving in snowy, foggy, or icy conditions can give even the most experienced motorist a challenge on the road. According to the Department of Transportation, there are approximately 1.2 million vehicle accidents per year related to weather, which leads to on average 6,000 fatalities and approximately 445,000 injuries due to these dangerous road conditions. So, what do you need to know to get to your destination in tricky, slippery winter weather safely?
Make sure you check your local forecast and road conditions before you leave the house! There are many ways to do that between television, social media, and even radio! This can help tremendously and keep you informed and prepared for what you could face on the road. The National Weather Service issues snow squall warnings which notify the public when a quick burst of snow occurs that can cause limited visibility and hazardous road conditions. Snow squalls are defined as intense, limited duration periods of moderate to heavy snowfall, which are accompanied by gusty surface winds. A snow squall is associated with strong cold front passages. Snow squalls approximately last a half hour to an hour in duration. They are common in the winter and can produce sudden whiteout conditions. If temperatures rapidly fall while a snow squall is occurring, surfaces can become very dangerous to travel on. These weather conditions can cause accidents if motorists are not careful when caught in one.
For more significant storms in the wintertime, the National Weather Service issues winter weather advisories, winter storm watches/warnings, and in the most severe case blizzard warnings. A winter weather advisory is issued when winter weather conditions will cause significant inconveniences outside. Winter storm watches are issued twelve to thirty-six hours in advance of severe wintry weather like heavy snow or ice accumulation. The amount and timing of the precipitation might not be fully known at the time of the watch but it allows the public time to prepare. A winter storm watch is upgraded to a warning when meteorologists forecast four inches or more of snow or sleet in a twelve hour time period, six inches of snow in a twenty-four hour period or more than one fourth in ice accretion. The fourth winter weather warning is a blizzard warning. Blizzard warnings are issued when conditions are forecasted or are producing strong winds and heavy snow which can cause blinding conditions (zero visibility) on the roadway, deep snow drifts and below zero wind chill temperatures. When one of these alerts are issued for your area, it is important to pay attention to the details that could impact not just your travel, but your life.
Regardless of the type of winter precipitation you’re facing this season, it's always important to take safety precautions to keep yourself and others safe! Tune into local meteorologist’s forecasts for the latest updates on your local weather, have an emergency kit in your car and when traveling in hazardous conditions, reduce speed and make sure your vehicle is in top shape to handle winter! For more information on winter weather alerts and safety click here!
©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
Photo Credit: National Weather Service
When severe weather is in the area, your local weather station will issue either a watch or a warning. But what exactly is the difference between a watch and a warning? A watch means the weather conditions in the area have the potential of becoming dangerous to potentially life-threatening, while a warning means severe conditions are more than likely going to happen. Some examples of watches and warnings can include tornado, severe thunderstorm, hurricane, freeze, and flash floods. If your local weather station issues a weather watch for your area, you should prepare to seek shelter if need be. This means being prepared to move to a safer area or evacuate entirely, if necessary. However, if your local weather station issues a warning, specifically tornado or severe thunderstorm, this means you need to seek shelter immediately. It means that a tornado has been spotted, or that the thunderstorm cell has moved into the area. Some warnings don’t always require you to take shelter immediately, for example hurricane warnings simply mean that the impact of the hurricane will be more severe than if issued a watch. In either case, you should still be prepared to take action if issued a warning.
You should always have a plan ready in case of the issuance of any giving weather watches and/or warnings. If you live alone, then it’s easy to set that plan in motion, since you only have to worry about yourself. But if you live with others, you should sit down and have a serious discussion about what your plan is going to be. Figure out where you can go if you need to evacuate, or where you can seek nearby shelter. Weather can change in the blink of an eye, so always be ready.
©2019 Weather Forecaster Sarah Cobern
To learn more about weather safety, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/weather-safety-educational-topics