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Avalanche extremes and atmospheric circulation patterns

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Avalanche forecasters can better anticipate avalanche extremes if they understand the relationships between those extremes and atmospheric circulation patterns. We investigated the relationship between extreme avalanche days and atmospheric circulation patterns at four sites in the western United States: Bridger Bowl, Montana; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Alta, Utah; and Taos, New Mexico. For each site, we calculated a daily avalanche hazard index based on the number and size of avalanches, and we defined abnormal avalanche events as the top 10% of days with recorded avalanche activity. We assessed the influence of different variables on avalanche extremes, and found that high snow water equivalent and high snowfall correspond most closely to days of high avalanche hazard. Composite-anomaly maps of 500 hPa heights during those avalanche extremes clearly illustrate that spatial patterns of anomalous troughing prevail, though the exact position of the troughing varies between sites. These patterns can be explained by the topography of the western United States, and the low-elevation pathways for moisture that exist to the west of each of the sites. The methods developed for this research can be applied to other sites with long-term climate and avalanche databases to further our understanding of the spatial distribution of atmospheric patterns associated with extreme avalanche days.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2001-01-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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