There are many fun things to do during winter, such as snowmobiling and skiing. However, it is possible for winter sports enthusiasts to misjudge weather conditions and get hurt or killed by an avalanche. Today, avalanches kill about 30 people each year; where in the 1950s, this number was much smaller – only four a year.
Avalanches occur when long stretches of snow detach from their fixed positions. While cartoons on television sometimes show avalanches for comedic effect, they are actually unpredictable and often deadly natural disasters.
There are three different kinds of avalanches; some are more dangerous than others. According to National Geographic, the most common type of avalanche is powder. This is thick, slippery, and heavy snow. These avalanches mostly happen in cold areas but can also occur in warmer areas.
The most threatening avalanches are referred to as deep slabs. With heavier snow than the powder avalanches, deep slabs are more dangerous because they’re thicker and therefore harder to escape if buried.
The last of the three types is the wet avalanche, which is created in warmer temperatures with melting snow. This water-snow mixture freezes and, when someone steps on a weak patch, it breaks.
Although avalanches are extremely hard to predict, they do have known risk factors. These include amount of snow, thickness of snow layers, and wind direction. There are 14 regional avalanche centers in the U.S. that help predict avalanches and alert the public when warning signs are present.
Avalanches are often overlooked as potentially harmful natural disasters but it’s important for people to recognize just how dangerous they can truly be.