Can we use Artificial Intelligence for Avalanche Forecasting?
Even the best forecasters only reach about 75% accuracy in their avalanche predictions. After all, they are only human. One of the greatest challenges is in the fact that avalanche danger cannot be precisely measured or communicated. It is, therefore, a matter of expert assessment and opinion by humans.
Last season the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research successfully tested a first-of-its-kind, artificial intelligence computer program to assist in its avalanche forecasts. The SLF is a world leader in the field of avalanche forecasting and pushes the boundaries of avalanche forecasting methods.
A Seward Highway avalanche closed the road for much of the day Friday. It was between Bird Creek and the Portage turnoff. The avalanche severed the only road access between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula for more than eight hours.
British Columbia is rolling out the artillery and bombs for avalanche bombing. There have been closures on some major roads for the first time in decades as the province grapples with record snowfall and rain.
The province uses helicopter avalanche bombing, remote-triggered explosives, and howitzers to keep roads open. But nonetheless critical routes to Vancouver are being disrupted by avalanche control.
WATERTON PARK, AB – A Waterton townsite avalanche resulted in a close call in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.
This past weekend a class-4 avalanche roared down Bertha Peak. Which is just outside the small resort community.
The avalanche dumped 10 metres of debris on the Bertha Falls trail and stopped just ahead of Evergreen Avenue South. Entry to the town using that street past Cameron Falls is not recommended due to the risk of further avalanches.
Additionally, the Akamina Parkway is closed until further notice. Pedestrian access on Akamina and Red Rock parkways remains open. The parkway will reopen to vehicles when conditions improve.
Fortunately, no injuries were reported, and no structures were damaged. The risk of avalanches, and another townsite avalanche, has increased significantly in the park. This is due to large snow falls, extreme wind gusts and rising temperatures.
Swiss avalanche deaths are up this season. Significantly more people have been killed than the latest 20-year average. The majority of victims were off-piste skiers or snowboarders. The grim statistics come in a report by the Swiss Institute for Snow & Avalanche Research (SLF) and cover the period from 1st October 2020 to 30th March 2021.
There were 133 reports of avalanches in Iceland in 10 days.
No people have been injured as a result of the events, though one recent avalanche in Skagafjörður killed at least three horses and destroyed a shed. One avalanche on the Skarðsdalur skiing grounds in North Iceland caused significant damage to the facilities. A third near Eskifjörður, East Iceland, damaged a shooting range and appears to have damaged facilities in the area as well.
During the past week backcountry skiers have triggered more than 10 avalanches in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Although nobody was seriously injured there have been some dangerous close calls.
There were six reports of skier-triggered San Juan avalanches in the Wolf Creek Pass area. And another five in the western San Juan Mountains.
One skier was caught in two avalanches. They were caught and carried about 100 to 130 feet and deployed an airbag. The skier was “pushed and knocked around but able to stay upright.”
The skier then came to a stop and got the airbag operational again. Attempting to ski down, the skier was caught in a second avalanche, carried another 100 to 130 feet and deployed the airbag again.
The unstable snowpack is a result of early season snow in October and dry weather for weeks in November, causing the snowpack to become weak. Then, additional snow on top of that weak layer causes avalanches.
“We have a block of harder snow over a section of weak sugary facets of the ground, so we have something over nothing," said Dave Zinn, avalanche expert. "This is the recipe for an avalanche, all you need now is a steep slope and a trigger.”
“Really watch out for those signs of instability -- like shooting cracks. Do some avalanche testing - dig stability tests, do an extended column test, see if you get stable results," said Zinn. "And if you don't see (stable results), find a different slope."
A final report on a fatal skier triggered avalanche that killed two Durango backcountry skiers last weekend says it appears the skiers likely triggered the slide while climbing up an avalanche path.
The skier triggered avalanche occurred on a steep slope above tree line. “They went on a day that wasn’t a good day to be there,” the official report said. Other skiers in the area that day were interviewed. They mostly stayed in lower angle areas and in the trees. They noted the dangerous conditions on the higher, steeper and open slopes.