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Avalanche deaths near record level in U.S. this winter, 6 in Canada

Sunday, February 28th 2021, 12:54 pm - While avalanche deaths are approaching record levels in the United States in winter 2020-21, Canada has had its share of fatal incidents, as well.

The United States is seeing a high number of avalanche fatalities this winter, just a few shy of setting a new record.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), there have been 33 people people killed, only three less than the record number of 36 avalanche deaths in 2008 and 2010.

SEE ALSO: Avalanche Canada establishes first Newfoundland & Labrador field team

There are three factors for avalanches to occur, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- a slope, snowpack and a trigger.

Every individual storm brings a different type of snow, which piles on in layers. The weaker layers have been deep in the snowpack this year, while the stronger ones have been on top, resulting in an "incredibly unstable surface," says Brian Lazar, deputy director at CAIC, in an interview with CNN.


An extended drought period followed by extreme precipitation events have been blamed for this season's weak snowpack.

"This year we are seeing a pretty dangerous snowpack, the kind of unique conditions that only come around once every 10 years or so," Lazar said. "This structure is highly conducive to producing avalanches."

"Like any structure, you don't want your weakest materials at the bottom, so when you build a snowpack structure with weaker layers under stronger layers, it's the perfect condition to produce avalanches," he added.


Meanwhile, in Canada, there have been six fatalities in 2020-21 winter season -- all of them in B.C., according to Avalanche Canada.

This tally so far is lower than the 2019-2020 total of eight deaths, and is below the 10-year running average of 10 fatalities, the group said in its 2020 annual report. The average number of Canadian fatalities every year continues to trend downwards.


Last year's figure is also the lowest number since 1997 and a drastic decline from the peak 10-year average of 15 in 2004.

The Utah Avalanche Center says 90 per cent of avalanche accidents are generated by the victim or someone in the victim's group.

Sources: CAIC | CNN | Avalanche Canada

Thumbnail courtesy of Pixabay.

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