Forest Service issues weekend avalanche warning for Mt. Shasta area

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
Mt. Shasta as seen from College of the Siskiyous in Weed on May 9, 2009

MOUNT SHASTA, Calif. – The U.S. Forest Service-Mount Shasta Avalanche Center issued a higher avalanche alert level for the Mount Shasta area of northern California starting Saturday, May 16 through Monday May, 18, 2009.

The Mount Shasta area is expecting unseasonably warm temperatures this weekend. This may weaken bonds within the snow pack and lead to avalanches. The greatest risk is expected on the southerly aspects during the warmest parts of the day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Use EXTREME caution when traveling in terrain traps and avalanche paths. Avalanches are most likely to occur after 11 a.m. We expect the instability to reach higher elevations this weekend as temperatures rise. Those traveling above the timberline should have extensive avalanche knowledge, travel cautiously and use careful route selection.

An average of 28 people die annually in the United States from avalanches, 95 percent of those accidents involved people engaged in recreational activities. Until Hurricane Katrina, avalanches killed more people in America than any other natural disaster.  The major groups involved in avalanches in the United States are backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, snowboarders and climbers. In 95 percent of avalanche accidents, the victim or a companion triggers the slide.

Some avalanches occurred Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 7, 8, 9.  While most of these were shallow slabs, some were more than 1000 ft. wide.  Five human triggered slides occurred on Sunday, May 10.  Luckily, there were no fatalities or injuries.  

Tips when traveling in the backcountry include the following:

-- Recent avalanches are the best indicator of avalanche danger.

-- Ninety percent of avalanches occur on slopes from 30-45 degrees.

-- Sustained winds increase the danger of an avalanche on leeward slopes.

 -- “Whoompfing” sounds or shooting crack lines on the snow surface are other clues of avalanche danger.

-- When in suspect terrain, travel one at a time from one island of safety to another.

-- It is safer to travel on the windward side of ridges away from cornices or on low angle slopes without steeper slopes directly above you.

-- Carry, know how to use and practice with the backcountry essentials: avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. 

For more information call the USFS Mount Shasta Avalanche Center and Wilderness Department at (530) 926-9613 or visit their website at www.shastaavalanche.org.