FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4)– Historic, unprecedented and powerful. That’s how Colorado avalanche forecasters describe what the state experienced with an avalanche cycle that brought slides down from the mountains around Winter Park down to Durango in March of this year.
“Hard for anyone to really wrap their head around,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene told CBS4 Tuesday.
Forecasters spent the summer months surveying the hundreds of individual slide paths and learning a lot from what they witnessed once the snow melted.
CBS4 cameras on the ground and in the air documented the slides that covered highways, buried homes and hit locations never before covered by an avalanche.
“There were some amazing events, there were some tragic events, we were very glad there were not more,” Greene said.
Researchers say there were three ingredients that combined to create the avalanche cycle from last March. And what Greene says we are seeing now, a lot of early October snow is exactly one of the ingredients from last season’s slides.
“There are three events that led up to the big avalanche cycle. One was the early snow in October then some consistent snowfall in January and February, then really intense heavy snowfall in early March.”
The CAIC uses an avalanche scale, much like the hurricane scale, numbering one-to-five categories to measure avalanche power. Last year there were 87 slides rated four and five in a two-week period in March.
For comparison, the previous eight years in Colorado saw 27 four and five-rated slides.
Time will tell how this season shapes up, but researchers are already using what they learned last March to better prepare and educate backcountry users. They have already started issuing daily avalanche condition reports on their website.