After midweek storms dropped feet of snow throughout Northern Utah, the Utah Avalanche Center has classified all of the Salt Lake area mountains as experiencing “extreme” avalanche danger. KPCW’s Sean Higgins has more on what that means and why you should be careful no matter where you are in the mountains.
The snowstorm from Tuesday night through Wednesday morning wreaked havoc on morning commutes throughout Northern Utah. The Utah Department of Transportation reported dozens of accidents and even urged people to avoid driving all together if they are able to until the roads are cleared by plow crews.
Danger was not limited to roads, however, as the Utah Avalanche Center classified all of the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City as areas of “extreme” avalanche danger Wednesday morning.
Wednesday’s classification means avalanches should be expected at all elevations and aspects. The Avalanche Center’s Trent Meisenheimer told KPCW that he has no doubt avalanches will occur and could be historic in size and location.
“Extreme avalanche danger -- what it means is it’s the highest level of avalanche danger,” Meisenheimer said. “It means that avalanches are certain to occur. Avalanches may run historic distances and create new avalanche paths. Avalanches will be fast moving, far running, and very destructive and avalanches may reach or occur in places that are not normally affected by avalanches. I guess the bottom line is it’s pretty dangerous out there and we just need to, if you are going to head out into the backcountry, you need to be well away from anything steep.”
Avalanche terrain is considered to be any slope greater than 30 degrees in steepness. Meisenheimer said any outdoor activity should be done clear of any slope steeper.
He said that also includes things like walking your dog. If your regular route brings you on or underneath a steep slope, plan to go somewhere else.
“So avoid being under or near any steep slopes, and this applies to anyone going into the mountains today or by the mountains,” he said. “This includes skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, running, sledding, dog walking, what have you. If you have a steep slope, we just need to not be anywhere around those steep areas, even on the foothills and in the benches, it’s just kind of the day to stay away from the mountains.”
Non-ski or snowboard related avalanche fatalities are not unprecedented in the Wasatch Back. A snowshoer was killed near Deer Valley in Daly Canyon in 2004 and another snowshoer was killed in an avalanche in American Fork Canyon in 2014.
The Utah Avalanche Center said avalanche danger will likely persist into the weekend and the snowpack will take a significant amount of time to fully stabilize after a dry early winter left a persistent weak layer of snow throughout the state.
Utah has experienced six avalanche deaths this year, two have been in the Park City area.
Daily avalanche forecasts are broadcast every morning on KPCW and full forecasts can be found at the Utah Avalanche Center Website.