SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – With a smaller staff than normal and historic avalanche conditions, those working for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) say good sleep is a luxury.
“Yeah the crew is exhausted but they’re going out every day still to do their jobs and make sure that people have the right information and trying to help people stay safe in the backcountry and on the highways,” said Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
CBS4 met with Greene in Frisco Monday after another long day. He was looking forward to finally going home to see his family. Right now, his normal staff of 21 is now 19. He is among those totally exhausted.
“I really haven’t gotten a break. I did get to sleep last night more than I have in a while, and it was great but we we’re back out trying to repair equipment today, you know? It’s snowing again so it’s no rest for the weary.”
The CAIC crew isn’t the only ones lacking sleep. A large portion of the avalanche mitigation work falls to forecasters at CDOT.
“I’ve been working a lot with highway forecasters in this area of I-70 because they’ve had so much going on. I’ve been trying to help them and watching them, they’ve been up at 2 o’clock in the morning and they’re home at 8 o’clock at night if they’re lucky,” said Greene.
While the hours seem relentless, for Greene, the unusual activity has been an incredible learning experience.
“When you’re seeing avalanches run in places that aren’t avalanche paths, wiping out timber in places that have not produced large avalanches when you’re seeing large avalanches that run through 1000 feet of timber and mow it down like toothpicks. When you see trees that are hundreds of years old get taken out by these slides, it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty amazing to watch and there’s a lot of reflection that we’re doing,” Greene said. “Just as a scientist, it’s an amazing event. It’s an event that maybe nobody that’s alive at this point has seen something similar in this area.”
There is also another side for Greene and his crew. Not only do the fatalities take a toll, but seeing the near-misses on the highway, Greene says it makes his heart sink.
“When you put so much effort into it, and we’re trying so hard to help CDOT keep these roads safe, and when something happens that we didn’t expect, or we didn’t anticipate, or it didn’t unfold the way that we saw it coming, it feels terrible. I am really happy that no one got hurt.”
Greene says overall, he is proud of the work that continues to occur to keep people safe.
“It’s been pretty amazing, the amount of cooperation, the amount of communication, everyone really working well together to manage the threat to the highway and communicate to the public. They’ve all really come together and been doing a fantastic job.”
Greene says he encourages those traveling on highways and in the backcountry to look at the CAIC forecast to make an educated plan of action. Greene also encourages those recreating the backcountry, with knowledge of slope angles and snowpack, to submit their own observations to the CAIC website.