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Unusual Weather In The Rockies Makes For Dangerous Avalanche Conditions

Utah Avalanche Center
An avalanche intentionally triggered by skiers Thursday and reported to the Utah Avalanche Center.

Highways and some ski resorts in our region have had to close in recent days due to high avalanche danger.

Bob Comey of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center in Wyoming said conditions are dangerous in many spots across the Central and Northern Rockies.

"We got pretty widespread high avalanche [danger] conditions, and each ski area has different terrain, different snowpack structure, and teams that address those hazards," Comey said Friday.

It's not unusual to see high avalanche danger this time of year. However, warmer temperatures, even rain in some places, have been making for unusual weather. And that can be hazardous, causing heavier snow to stack on top of weaker snow.

As the Utah Avalanche Center's Craig Gordon said, "Unusual weather makes unusual avalanches."

"These storms are also coupled with dense, heavy snow, and that's creating a cohesive layer, what we call a slab on top of either weaker snow or on top of lighter, density snow," Gordon added. "So it's sort of like an upside down cake. And that is always a dangerous combination in our mountains."

Gordon encourages anyone wondering about avalanche conditions to check with their regional avalanche center.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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