An avalanche is the main danger while skiing and snowboarding in the mountains. It is the sudden fall of large amounts of snow from steep mountain slopes into valleys, which also lifts a huge mass of snow into the air and carries rocks, trees, and other things with it. To avoid being in the path of this extremely dangerous weather phenomenon, you need to know how to read an avalanche forecast and warnings. In this article, we will understand what it is and where to get it.
An avalanche forecast is a forecast with the purpose of warning about the possible formation of this weather phenomenon and its fall from mountain slopes. In particular, three main factors are taken into account when making an avalanche forecast: the snowpack stability; the probability of avalanche formation; and the size and distribution of possible avalanches in a particular area. Avalanches can be separate phenomena, or occur in series — one entails another, which is even scarier.
It is important to understand right away that the avalanche forecast is made for the mountain slopes, not the entire vast area of the ski resort or a ski village, and is general for a certain period of time, which is subject to change just like the regular weather or snow forecast. The avalanche forecast is also updated with a certain frequency, which is generally noticeably less than that of regular weather forecasts. For example, instead of two to four updates per day, they are made every few days. From there, pay attention to the date of the avalanche forecast first. But it’s usually one avalanche forecast per day in the case of major avalanche centers.
Special meteorological and rescue government agencies make the avalanche forecast. In North America, these are the three main organizations: the American Avalanche Association (AAA) and the National Avalanche Center (NAC) in the US, and the Avalanche Canada Foundation (ACF). In Europe, it is the European Avalanche Warning Services (EAWS). In North Asia (Russia, Japan, South Korea, and China) — local similar services, depending on the country.
The avalanche forecast has two main parts:
Kevin Schmid / Unsplash
North Americans and Europeans have their own avalanche danger scales. The first is called the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale (NAPADS), and the second is the European Avalanche Danger Scale (EADC). The scales are almost identical and only differ in the description of one or another level of danger.
Each of the scales consists of five categories of avalanche danger: 1 — Low (green), 2 — Moderate (yellow), 3 — Considerable (orange), 4 — High (red), and 5 — Extreme (black). Each of these levels is also illustrated by a special sign, a diamond with another special sign, and a drawing of an avalanche of different sizes. They are followed by tips on traveling in an avalanche-prone region, the likelihood of avalanches, and their size and distribution. However, the European scheme contains some additional details, such as snowpack stability, avalanche fatalities (%), and some others.
So, let’s take the scale for the US and Canada and add to it some useful details from the scale for Europe to get a universal one for any place in the world:
Avalanche Danger Scale. Valerya Milovanova / Windy.app
Note: Moderately steep terrain are slopes shallower than 30 %, steep slopes — 30+ %, very steep, extreme terrain — 40+ %.
Matea Nikolina / Unsplash
As with the regular weather forecast, all of the above is presented to winter sports fans in several popular formats, including avalanche forecast tables and interactive avalanche maps, in which colors based on avalanche danger scale mark the regions where there is a high probability of this weather phenomenon occurring.
You can get avalanche forecasts and maps on the official websites of the above-mentioned organizations or directly on the websites of the regional avalanche centers, of which they are composed. For example, in the U.S. there are more than 20 of them in the most mountainous states starting with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), as the main ski region of the country. In Europe, these would be Alpine countries: France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and others.
Avalanche danger map for North America
Avalanche danger map for Europe
There are also avalanche bulletins — another format for presenting avalanche forecasts, including warnings and watches, as well as general weather forecasts and other information — something like a one-page newspaper created for skiing and snowboarding fans.
A good example is the avalanche bulletin of February 6, 2023, from the Livigno Ski Resort — the largest in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. An archive of several years’ of avalanches forecasts is also available on the Livigno website, from which it becomes clear that at the resort it is made on average every other day. You can also sign up for their newsletter to receive the forecast to your inbox.
So yes, if you're more comfortable, you can also find an avalanche forecast on ski resort websites, which take information from official avalanche centers as a basis.
Livigno Ski Resort avalanche bulletin
It is also difficult to imagine an avalanche forecast without a snow forecast, which contains various weather elements associated with this natural phenomenon, as well as many general ones.
In the Windy.app, there is a whole Snow Weather Profile, where you can get a preset of 10+ weather parameters, indexes, data, and charts created especially for winter sports like snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing and other. In particular, in the profile you can get:
Snow Weather Profile in the Windy.app for iOS
Weather elements of the Snow Weather Profile in the Windy.app for iOS
To set up Snow Weather Profile:
1. Go to your favorite or the nearest spot in the app.
2. Open Snow Weather Profile by an icon right to weather forecast modes.
3. Get weather forecast for the next 10 days.
The precipitation and wind forecast for the ski resort and the region in which it is located can also be viewed visually on the Weather Map. To do this, click on the map icon at the top of the screen in the widget and select the Precipitation layer on it.
Precipitation Map of the Dolomites in the Windy.app for iOS
However, in addition to the snow forecast, we also recommend checking the real-time weather from the nearest weather station as well as weather history.
In the Windy.app you can find weather stations right on the spot screen. It includes information about air temperature and wind. You can also get the forecast for the station as a spot. To do so, click on the "Get the forecast" icon. More: you can compare wind data from the weather station with the forecast. Click on the "Detailed analysis" icon and check the whine line in the comparison chart in the forecast table.
Weather station in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy in the Windy.app for iOS
Another useful thing in the Windy.app is weather history for ski resort with precipitation data on the particular day a year ago, several years ago, a decade ago as well as the average values for months and years.. This information will help you predict the snow on the day you need it. Again, there is no guarantee that if there was snow in this area on this day every year during the last 10 years, it will be the same this time, but it increases the chances a little bit.
In some other resources you can also find information about the snowfall in particular, including the snowiest week of the year at the ski resort, the number of snowy days in a week, the average snow on this day based on weather data for the last years, and other historical data.
Precipitation history in the Windy.app for iOS
Text: Ivan Kuznetsov
Cover photo: Kevin Schmid / Unsplash
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