A pole is used to measure the snowpack during a snow survey at Phillips Station off Highway 50, approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento.

Avalanche Activity Serves as Reminder of Winter Dangers

After a relatively mild start to 2018 weather-wise – especially compared to last year – two separate avalanches in California over the weekend served as a reminder of winter’s hidden dangers.

In Lake Tahoe, an avalanche Friday at Squaw Valley Ski Resort buried five skiers and snowboarders. Squaw Valley had reported nearly 5 feet of snow in just seven days.

Highways and schools were closed during a week-long storm, which included severe wind gusts at the highest elevations and blizzard-like conditions.

Mammoth Mountain ski resort reopened Sunday a day after three people were partially buried in an avalanche in the Inyo National Forest of Madera and Mono counties.

Last year, as rain and snow in Northern California caused significant flooding, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) avalanche control crews worked tirelessly to not only keep the highways clear but to also perform the dangerous task of avalanche control on the mountains.

Crews use pre-identified known avalanche trigger points and explosives to reduce and eliminate avalanche risk. Safety of the public on the highway is a priority as is team safety during avalanche control missions. Avalanche control crews hold safety briefings before they head out on a mission and carry important supplies with them.

If trekking to the mountains, Caltrans warns of these additional winter-related concerns for travelers:

  • Make sure brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system work efficiently.
  • Check antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures.
  • Check tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition. Always carry chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order.
  • Other suggested items to carry in your car are an ice scraper or commercial de-icer, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a shovel to free yourself from your car if it is snowed in, and sand or burlap for traction if your wheels should become mired in snow.
  • It is also a good idea to take along water, food, warm blankets and extra clothing.
  • Weather conditions may warrant detouring traffic from the main roadway. It is strongly suggested that drivers always keep an updated map containing the areas of travel.

More snow is in the forecast for the Sierras this weekend and heavier accumulation is expected next week, per the National Weather Service. According to the most recent snow survey, the Phillips Station near Sierra-at-Tahoe measured at 39 percent of the historical average for the date.

Click here for more weather safety tips.


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Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) 2017 wildfires, and statewide wildfire siege in 2018 . Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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