Avalanche danger to dramatically increase with new snowfall

Published: Jan. 8, 2022 at 12:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As new snowfall arrives in Southcentral Alaska on Sunday, avalanche danger will “rise dramatically” according to the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

“The snowpack is capped with a really slippery crust and any snow that falls on it is not going to be able to bond well and it’s just going to come down,” Avalanche Center Director Wendy Wagner said. “When we get heavy snowfall on the surface that we have right now, that’s going to probably pile up a foot or two and then it’s going to avalanche.”

Southcentral and Southeast will see a major change in the weather pattern this weekend. A storm brewing in the northern Pacific will bring moisture and strong winds to both areas.

In Southeast, a Winter Storm Warning is in effect late Saturday through Sunday for heavy snow and high winds. One to two feet of snow is likely for most areas, with the exception of Hyder which will see up to 30 inches of snow and Craig and Klawock which will see much less with two to four inches. Much of Southeast will also see strong winds Sunday with gusts to 50 mph.

Snow forecasted to fall on the panhandle on Jan. 9.
Snow forecasted to fall on the panhandle on Jan. 9.(Melissa Frey)

The snow will begin falling on the Kenai Peninsula mid-morning Sunday, Heavy snow is likely from Seward through Turnagain Pass Sunday afternoon into Monday. This storm will likely bring more than six inches of snow to Seward Sunday alone, with more than a foot likely in Turnagain Pass. In addition to the snow, wind gusts of 25 to 35 mph are likely in this area Sunday afternoon and evening.

The forecast for Turnagain Pass written by John Sykes listed avalanche danger as low at and below the treeline and moderate above the treeline.

“Sunday afternoon a large low pressure system is expected to impact our area with up to 30″ of new snow by Monday on top of a weak existing snow surface. Expect avalanche danger to increase rapidly with the onset of heavy snowfall. Natural and human triggered avalanches will become likely and heightened avalanche danger could persist through the week as we expect additional snowfall,” wrote Sykes.

Snow forecasted to move from north to south across the Kenai Peninsula on Sunday.
Snow forecasted to move from north to south across the Kenai Peninsula on Sunday.(Melissa Frey)

The forecast for Hatcher Pass lists avalanche danger as moderate at all elevations.

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