Sunday avalanche a 'canary in a coal mine,' forecasters say

Published: Monday, Nov. 18 2013 9:20 a.m. MST

A small avalanche Sunday may signify the tip of the avalanche iceberg, forecasters say.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — A remotely triggered avalanche may be the beginning of things to come.

The avalanche on Sunday afternoon, which was 1 ½ to 2 feet deep and 60 feet wide, carried one person an estimated 150 feet down the mountain, according to Evelyn Lees, forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center.

No one was injured in the avalanche that occurred in the backcountry at Rocky Point, near the headwaters for Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. The slide was relatively small, according to forecaster Drew Hardesty.

"It's probably a canary in a coal mine. I would be shocked if we were not talking again later … with just the perfect recipe for avalanche accidents," he said.

The recipe includes a powerful storm that hit the Wasatch range, about a foot to a foot and a half of fresh snow mixed with forceful wind. This snow fell on top of weak, "sugary" snow that has been on the ground since mid-October and early November. Hardesty said he was expecting that some of the avalanches would be a couple hundred feet wide with depths of 1 to 3 feet.

"They're unmanageable. You can trigger them while not even being on the slope. You can trigger them from below, or adjacent to the slope or above," he said.

Hardesty said those venturing into the backcountry should avoid terrain that is "steep, mid and upper elevation northerly terrain that's clearly delineated on our avalanche forecast.

"It's a considerable hazard that means that human-triggered avalanches are probable, the consequences are even more pronounced because it's early season. Any avalanche victim is going to get dragged down to the thin, thinly covered rocks, stumps and trees," increasing their risk of fatality, he said.

Avalanche risk will continue to be considerable in the Salt Lake mountain areas through midweek.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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