Avalanche danger in Turnagain Pass heightened by weak layers

Above normal temperatures continue with scattered areas of a light wintry mix. More active wintry weather in western Alaska.
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 10:19 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is warning people against visiting higher elevations in the Turnagain Pass region over the weekend due to avalanche danger.

Andrew Schauer, the lead forecaster at the CNFAIC, said there’s still considerable avalanche danger at higher elevations, even though the weather has quieted down from last month. Schauer said that as a rule of thumb, areas with thinner layers of snowpack are the most dangerous.

“We have these very weak layers that have been making avalanches for almost three weeks now,” Schauer said. “And even though there’s not a whole lot going on weather-wise, it’s still a dangerous setup. And last weekend was very similar. It was a quiet weather weekend, and there were a ton of human-triggered avalanches.”

Turnagin Pass forecast region
Turnagin Pass forecast region(Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center)

Schauer compared the layers of snow to a layer cake. Currently, the weaker layers are buried underneath the stronger layers. The avalanche center’s forecast for Turnagain Arm indicates the weak layer is approximately two feet below the surface.

“Right now we have one of those stronger layers sitting on top of one of those weaker layers,” Schauer said. “And that’s what’s causing these problems.”

Schauer says to remain at low elevations in order to stay safe.

“Right now, all of us are keeping it very mellow, sticking to low-angle terrain and avoiding some of these bigger, steeper slopes that are more fun to play around on, but we just don’t have the confidence in snowpack to justify it,” Schauer said.

The CNFAIC posts forecasts each day, and the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center also posts avalanche forecasts on its website.