City issues high avalanche warning

By Jasz Garrett

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – The Emergency Programs Manager for the City and Borough of Juneau has issued a high avalanche warning on Sunday that expires at 7:00 a.m. Monday. The danger is rapidly increasing towards the extreme as heavy snow layers on top of the light-density accumulation. Risk to urban areas is still limited as of Sunday.

From Friday night to Sunday morning, 10 to 16 inches of snow were recorded in Juneau by the National Weather Service Juneau. The winter storm warning expires at 9:00 p.m. Monday. From Sunday to Monday night, 16 to 20 inches is expected for sea-level communities. It was originally predicted as 20 to 29 inches for Juneau.

Juneau’s snow totals as of Sunday morning. (Data provided by National Weather Service Juneau)

Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice explained why there is a considerable risk of avalanches with the heavy snowfall Juneau is experiencing.

“The more snow and the quicker it comes the more avalanche danger tends to rise. That varies a lot depending on how it layers and different things like that. But when you see large storms coming like this it definitely raises the danger quickly,” he said. “Especially when we started so very, very cold with all that dry, light snow, and as things start to get warmer and denser, you are starting to build an upside-down storm slab, and it tends to end up in an avalanche cycle. It just depends on the volumes and how things come off, but we could see sizeable avalanches over the next couple of days should it occur.”

He said it’s important to note that in every avalanche-prone area, there is a risk. However, it’s early in the season for snow to pass down into urban areas. He said it is possible and depends on how much new snow accumulates before avalanches occur. The more snow Juneau experiences, the more likely the avalanches become.

Mattice advised on how to be prepared.

“Everybody should always be prepared to be spending a night somewhere else if danger does go to extreme. They should be thinking about where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do. The city does open shelters when we’ve recommended evacuations before,” he said.

It’s recommended to avoid avalanche terrain on Sunday. Mattice added that he has seen small powder avalanches already. Natural avalanches and human-triggered avalanches are both likely. These have the potential to be long fast avalanches, according to the advisory.

Mattice said that the situation is still developing and being assessed.

“This big storm will keep us on our toes for several days to come. Not just during the storm itself, but even several days after,” he said. “Really want to take avalanche classes and learn how to make your own avalanche assessments if you’re going to spend time in the backcountry. Be safe.”

The public can stay up-to-date on the city’s avalanche page. Additionally, they can visit the Coastal Alaska Avalanche Center website and share snow and avalanche observations. 

Weather updates are also provided on the NWSJ website and social media.