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Mountain Snow Elevates Avalanche Danger; More Coming

Don Sharaf
American Avalanche Institute
This weeks snowfall will make backcountry recreation risky this weekend

  Three days of snow has reminded Utah of what life’s like in a mountain state after last year’s paltry winter.

Jim Steenburgh , a University of Utah atmospheric scientist, wrote the book Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth, and he’s known online as Professor Powder. Like many Utahns, he was pleased with this week’s three-day snowstorm.

“It was great,” he says. “I enjoyed it.”

The snowy pileup was a happy surprise – especially since last winter was so warm and dry. Steenburgh says it’s completely normal for northern Utah and the kind of winter weather event that should be expected for decades to come -- even with the changing global climate.

But all that snow has a downside, too, Steenburgh says. He points to high avalanche danger throughout the Wasatch Range that makes the backcountry risky for skiers, snowmobilers and anyone else headed into the mountains.

“It’s an extremely weak and dangerous snowpack right now,” Steenburgh says. “The Avalanche Centeris quite concerned about it, and they’re especially concerned that Saturday looks to be a sunny day, which oftentimes invites people to let their guard down.”

The National Weather Service forecast hints at more mountain snow beginning Sunday. Valley temperatures around 40 degrees means rain at lower elevations.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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