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Heavy Snow Heightens Avalanche Danger, Backcountry Hazards On San Francisco Peaks

Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center

The recent round of winter storms brought multiple feet of snow to much of northern Arizona. On the San Francisco Peaks, it rapidly increased avalanche danger. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

While Flagstaff and the surrounding region received about 2 feet of snow in recent days, many areas of the Peaks got more than double that amount. Some high-elevation snowdrifts could even measure two meters. It was the first major accumulation on the Peaks after a long dry spell, and local avalanche experts say there’s now a high degree of uncertainty for avalanche and other backcountry hazards.

"Anytime you get a significant amount of snow that raises your concerns," says James Foulks, an executive board member of the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center. "What’s unique about this situation is there was no snowpack, or almost no snowpack, on most all aspects of the mountain prior to this storm." 

Foulks says that creates dangers for backcountry skiers and snowboarders like logs and boulders hidden beneath light layers of snow. The first 24 to 48 hours following a storm are typically the most dangerous for avalanches and none have yet been observed on the San Francisco Peaks.

Those planning to go out in the backcountry are urged to be cautious, carefully assess the conditions and pay attention to KPAC’s avalanche reports.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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