Avalanches: The Aftermath, Clean Up, & Danger
Twin Lakes Avalanche Leaves Mess Behind
While nearly two weeks have passed since the March 9 avalanche on Highway 82 west of Twin Lakes, certain dangers remain today. And with another series of storms predicted for this weekend, area residents grow concerned about the enormous piles of dirt, rocks, and trees left over from the considerable snow slide which came crashing down onto the highway early Saturday (3/09/19) morning.
While the initial mess was cleared from the road by Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) , the remains are starting to shift and melt in some cases where heavy snow pack has held together a tightly packed mixture of tree trunks and branches. As most know, Highway 82 is closed to through traffic over Independence Pass during the winter months, but still acts as a roadway for more than a dozen residents who live in the area year-round.
“The road still has to be plowed,” said Becky Alexandria, owner of the Mount Elbert Lodge, the only year-round business up that far on Hwy 82. “I still need to get my kid to school and we still have guests.” While the avalanche near Monitor Rock was located further up near mile marker 74, the road ceased to be plowed for several days after the incident. Alexandria reported that CDOT did eventually respond to her request to resume plowing, but it did not appear that regular plowing maintenance was in place beyond the lodge. There are about half a dozen folks that live in the area year-round and while most are self-sufficient, CDOT is obligated to keep the road clear as far as the La Plata gate on Highway 82 until the official summer opening on Memorial Day weekend.
While road safety is important for even the few residents who will use it for the next couple of months, there is another concern: spring run-off. Earlier this week the Bureau of Reclamation announced its first water transfer of the season, already dumping reserves into (lower) Lake Creek and the Arkansas River beyond. Yes, it is a bit early in the season which puts water watchers on high alert for seasonal flash flooding, particularly in areas that have seen recent slide activity.
Of particular concern is where the avalanche aftermath is located. One good shift and there could be lots of trees and branches pushed off into Lake Creek, which sits at the base of a narrow canyon, ripe for log-jams and flooding.
Who Cleans Up After the Avalanche?
When it comes to avalanches that cross over state highways, all signs point to the Colorado Department of Transportation when it comes to cleaning up the debris. At least what’s on the roadway. But beyond that, the whose-responsibility-is-it question gets a bit fuzzy. Does CDOT have to clear the entire chute? And if not, how far up? And what about all the sizeable tree trunks, branches and rocks which could easily slide off the cliff and down into Lake Creek? Does Mother Nature just take its course?
These are the questions that no one seems to have a solid answer for, but Leadville Today will keep digging. And if you have any knowledge you’re willing to share reach out at info@leadville today.com or on any of LT’s social platforms. After all, Lake County still wasn’t seen it’s snowiest month – that’s April for you new-comers! So with the spring thaw underway and more snow in the forecast, LT will be keeping an ear to the ground and an eye to the sky! Help do the same, the neighbors are counting on it!
Avalanche Conditions Shifting Daily
Backcountry Avalanche Forecast for the Sawatch Range
By Ben Pritchett, CAIC
Submitted on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 7:05 a.m.
If you look around at the plainly visible avalanches throughout high peaks and the recently cleared swaths of broken trees in the forests below, they are hard to ignore. We’re on the tail end of this historic avalanche cycle, but the alarming and deadly consequences of getting hit by one of these avalanches can help guide where and how you move through the mountains.
Keep your exposure to large avalanche paths that have not yet run to a minimum. Choose lower angle routes not connected to large steep features. Group-up and favor traveling in areas with no avalanche terrain above. Avoid shallow portions of a slope where large continuous slabs of stiff snow taper or become thinner near their edges. You are most likely to trigger one of these monsters from a shallowly snow-covered portion of a slope. Slabs will thin near wind-swept ridges, or lower on a slope. If you see shallowly buried or protruding ground cover below or adjacent to a steep snow-covered slope, give these areas a wide berth.
Below treeline, it’s unlikely that you’ll trigger a large avalanche, but one could run down from far above. Plan your route so you know where you’re exposed to avalanche paths above and where you’re not.
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Forecast Discussion for the Sawatch Range
By: Matt Huber, CAIC
Submitted on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 7:53 a.m.
The message we are putting out these days may start to get worn out. The avalanche danger has been Moderate (Level 2 of 5) for most areas in the Central Mountains for about four days. Since then, our message really has not changed that much. Avoiding travel that is near or below avalanche terrain is the best way to reduce your chance of being caught. Unfortunately, with the conditions as they are and the current avalanche problem, the message may not be quick to change. Terms like “seasonal avoidance” are sometimes used when discussing travel advice and risk mitigation for Deep Persistent Slab avalanche problems. It seems that the message will be with us for a bit and it may be a team effort for all of us not to let message fatigue set in.
How you choose to deal with the Deep Persistent Slab avalanche problem will rely completely on your risk tolerance. Without riding very aggressively or intentionally dropping large chunks of cornice onto slopes below, the chances of you triggering a very large and destructive avalanche are decreasing. Digging in the snow likely won’t raise many red flags for instability if any at all. You won’t see shooting cracks or collapsing until you are committed to the slope: Low-Probability.
High- Consequence. Find the sweet spot for one of these avalanches, and it is game-on. Avalanches can break in the depth hoar near the ground, giving enough volume and slab continuity to travel across terrain features and crush swaths of timber on its way to the valley floor, likely with you in it. Before making your decision to tempt fate, consider that others may be near or below the avalanche path.
The easiest way to reduce your chances of being caught in an avalanche like this is to avoid exposure to avalanche terrain.
The Deep Persistent Slab avalanche problem is not as prevalent on the Grand Mesa. Although it has become unlikely for you to trigger a deep avalanche, it is not impossible in isolated terrain features. Wet loose snow sluffing is the primary concern. You can easily manage these types of problems by moving onto shady, cooler slopes as the snow begins to warm.
Water Diversion Season has Begun!
On Monday, March 18, Terry Dawson, a FryArk Project Water Resource Specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation announced the following information regarding the water diversion project:
“We need to release the native water from Turquoise. We’ll move that water to Twin via the Mt Elbert conduit then release it down Lake Creek. We’ll increase the Twin release by 75 cfs at 09:00 this morning, 18 Mar 19, to a total release of 500 cfs. Of this, 385 cfs is project, 115 cfs is native and less than 1 cfs is account releases. Once the native has been released, we’ll adjust the total release.”