Potential Avalanche Hazard and other Winter Hazards



Date: February 6, 2024 Phone: 928-890-7604

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SUBJECT: Potential Avalanche Hazard and other Winter Hazards

Flagstaff, AZ –

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit and the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center would like to remind those recreating in the winter backcountry, particularly on the San Francisco Peaks, about some potential hazards. Northern Arizona is currently experiencing a significant winter weather event. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning, as the first in a series of three storms descends on the region. Storm totals above 10,000 feet on the San Francisco Peaks could reach nearly 4 feet over the next 4 days. If maximum totals accumulate, dangerous avalanche conditions could result near and above tree line. As new snow loads the current snowpack, weak layers at the bottom and middle, could release, resulting in large to very large avalanches. This storm is accompanied by high winds, which could further load some slopes. Human-triggered avalanches will be likely. This storm could lead to the first natural avalanche cycle of the season. Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center is recommending that skiers and riders avoid near tree line and above tree line slopes at all aspects until the danger subsides. For updated information, please see the avalanche forecast at www.Kachinapeaks.org. Avalanche mitigation is conducted within the boundaries of the Arizona Snowbowl, but not outside of that boundary.

In addition to the potential avalanche hazard on the San Francisco Peaks, winter weather hazards will exist throughout portions of Northern Arizona. Deep snow will make travel by foot and vehicle difficult. Some area roadways may be closed due to the snowfall and drivers should not be tempted to take alternative routes suggested by navigation apps, especially roads that are not routinely plowed or patrolled. It is generally best to wait out the closure in your vehicle or in town rather than attempt an unknown alternate route. Travelers should be prepared with extra supplies in their vehicles with an expectation of longer travel times and occasional road closures.

Those recreating on foot in the backcountry should be prepared for over the snow travel in deep snow and have the necessary equipment to safely negotiate the environment including navigation equipment (map, compass, GPS), food and water, extra warm clothing, headlamp or flashlight, first aid kit, emergency shelter materials, fire starting kit, pocket knife/multi-tool, whistle and signal mirror, and a fully charged cell phone with a back-up battery. In potential avalanche terrain it is important to carry an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe, and avalanche shovel with the knowledge of how to use those tools and backcountry travelers should not travel alone. Leaving a detailed trip plan with a trusted person not on the trip is important so that search and rescue knows where to look in the event that someone is over due.

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