Monday, December 2, 2013

Understanding Your Avalanche Forecast

Avalanche Forecasters have a difficult job--they do not simply need to understand the specific stability issues in their respective regions, some of which are very large and variable, they also need to communicate that hazard to the public. In an effort to simplify the message to the public, many forecast centers in North America have adopted the "Avalanche Problems" model, which has proven to be a direct and clear method of communicating the heart of the matter.

Mountain Guide, Canadian Avalanche Forecaster, and AIARE founder Karl Klassen presented the relatively new Avalanche Problems concept at this year's ISSW in Grenoble and again at the Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop (USAW) in Salt Lake City. The Canadians have developed a clean, icon-based system which aims to categorize avalanche hazards into 8 problems. A concise summary of the 8 Avalanche Problems used by the Canadian Avalanche Association can be found here:

Below is an example of an archived avalanche forecast from the CAA which employs the avalanche problems:

Brian Lazar, of AIARE, describes the "Avalanche Problems" in the December 2012 issue of the Avalanche Review.

Unfortunately, avalanche centers have yet to standardize the number of existing problems and the definitions of these problems. Backcountry users must familiarize themselves with their local centers system.

A link to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's definitions can be found here:

A tutorial from the Utah Avalanche Center can be found here:

Different forecast centers have different approaches--familiarizing yourself with your local forecast early in the season will ensure that you understand how your local forecast may have changed or updated its' approach. It will also help you begin tracking the early season snowpack--which determines the foundation of the snowpack for the remainder of the season.

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