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Incoming storm will create avalanche danger

Utah Avalanche Center

As northern Utah sees another storm make its way into the state, the winds and warm temperatures mean increasing danger in the backcountry.

While Utah saw a lot of early snow in October and early November – it stopped snowing on November 12th and didn’t snow for nearly a month. According to Utah Avalanche Forecaster Trent Meisenheimer, much of the snow on the southern aspects melted off, and the snow on the shady, northern slopes has become very weak and dangerous.

“A lot of those southerly facing slopes were melted down to bare dirt, but on the northerly facing or the shady slopes it held snow and that snow became weak and faceted,” said Meisenheimer. “Or as we call it just sugar snow. It's basically like ball bearings and when we add new storm snow on top of that we get a slab of snow on top of a weak layer and it's the perfect recipe for avalanches. So that's going to be on any slope at the mid and upper elevations that has old snow from October and November. And right now, we are seeing it produce avalanches and they can be triggered from a distance and it's dangerous. So, my best advice to anyone listening would just be to avoid northern northerly facing slopes at the mid and upper elevations. And remember that avalanche terrain is any slope that’s greater than 30 degrees in steepness.”

Two avalanches he says were reported Sunday on similar facing slopes.

“One was a remotely triggered avalanche in Hidden Canyon just near Brighton ski area, Meisenheimer said. “This was in the backcountry and the party was just standing on the ridge when they got a big collapse and the avalanche jumped out right in front of them. Another was a small wind slab avalanche in Cardiff Fork [located near Big Cottonwood Canyon]. But one thing to keep in mind right now is unfortunately we're we have a dangerous setup once again this winter.”

That dangerous set-up can last for a while, and this week’s storm he says will only create even more dangerous conditions.

“You know, those southerly winds out there are screaming across the upper elevation terrain, so we have speeds up there along the Park City ridge line, you know wind speeds of 20 to 30 mph gusting and in the 40s and 50s.” he said. “Over by Jupiter peak, it's moving along more like 35 to 45 miles per hour gusting into the 60s and 70s so very, very windy across those upper elevations. This large scale storm, it approaches northern Utah as we speak, and it'll likely be windy throughout much of the day. Unfortunately, the southerly winds are increasing the avalanche danger and also wreaking havoc on our snow surface.”

A considerable danger exists on all steep northwest through east facing slopes as snow riders look to get out in the backcountry for fresh snow.

ABC 4 Meteorologist Thomas Geboy says the storm will move into the state tomorrow afternoon with snow likely. There will be a better chance of snow Tuesday night with the snow tapering off by Wednesday midday and much colder temperatures moving in. More snow he says is also expected on Thursday night.

The first avalanche fatality of the season in the U.S was reported Saturday. A 60-year old man was killed and five others were temporarily trapped in an area called Silver Basin in Washington, a closed area just out of bounds of Crystal Mountain Resort. The Associated Press reports that while all of those caught were experienced backcountry skiers and carrying the necessary equipment, a warning had been issued against skiing in the area.