Elevated Avalanche Danger for Colorado Mountains

Avalanche Watch in Effect for Northern Mountains
Recent heavy snowfall in the Colorado mountains have elevated the avalanche threat and is already responsible for two deaths in February.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has been doing avalanche mitigation work along many roadways to prevent a slide that could put drivers at risk. CDOT says it has been doing more mitigation work this season than it has in decades.

Thanks to their efforts, no drivers have been injured as a result of a slide this season -- however many drivers have been frustrated with road closures due to slides and mitigation efforts,, especially at Berthoud Pass and the tunnels.

The state's bigger problem areas have been in the backcountry. Out of seven human-triggered slides there have been four fatalities and all those victims were skiing, riding, or on snowmobiles in backcountry areas prone to avalanches.

Lee Metzger is an avalanche forecaster and says, "You gotta stick to lower level terrain when conditions are like this and maybe even stay out of the backcountry when avalanche warnings are there."

Recent heavy snowfall has triggered the latest slides near Keystone and Crested Butte. Every time a storm brings new snow to an area, new layers of snow with varying degrees of thickness begin to build up. Some of these layers consist of light, powdery snow, while others contain heavy, wet snow. These contrasting layers can eventually break free from one another, resulting in a dangerous avalanche.

A good example of this layering can be seen in the nearly three to six feet of snow that fell during the second weekend of February. The thick layer of new snow can easily slide off the previous layers once triggered by a human, or an explosion by a mitigation crew.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado has had more avalanche deaths than any other state since 1950. Most fatalities are 21 to 25 year olds and the sport is typically snowmobiling.

Avalanche watches remain in effect for the central and northern mountains until further notice. Be sure to always be informed about avalanche conditions before riding.

Matt Makens

Matt Makens has won 5 Emmys for his weather coverage. He has the seal of approval from the NWA and is a certified Broadcast Meteorologist as designated by the AMS. He works for Colorado's Own Ch 2.

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