Avalanche Center ups its web presence | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche Center ups its web presence

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Avalanche forecaster Nick Logan examines individual snow crystals on a snow card at the 2005 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin. Data from field observations like this are more readily available on the new CAIC website. (Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily)

Aspen, CO Colorado

Coinciding with this week’s memorable storm, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) launched a new-look website this week. Some of the biggest changes, along with updated graphics, include more geographically focused forecasts and avalanche bulletins.

Colorado’s mountains are now divided into 10 zones, with Summit and Eagle counties mapped together for the CAIC’s avalanche and weather forecasting zones. Also new are some direct links to real-time weather data. From near the top of the CAIC home page, backcountry travelers in Summit County can click on a Loveland Pass link to check on up-to-the-minute wind speeds and temperatures.

“This kind of fits in with a few things we’ve been trying to do,” said CAIC director Ethan Greene, explaining that the changes were driven in large part by feedback from an in-depth survey conducted last season.

“We’re trying to build up the satellite centers,” Greene said, referring to facilities like the Summit County Avalanche Office, which helps provide much more localized information.

“I see avalanche forecasting as a grassroots endeavor,” Greene said. “The end goal is to deliver a better product.”

At the same time, he hopes that building up the local centers will spur more support from backcountry users in those areas. Summit County has stepped up to the plate as far as supporting the avalanche office financially, he said.

“The other thing we need is information,” he said. To that end, the new website also includes a link for submitting observations. That would include signs of recent avalanche activity and snow pit data. Timeliness is crucial in this process, Greene said. Observations that are a few days old are helpful for filling in gaps in the tables, but don’t help as much for making a daily forecast.

Greene said some of the new icons used on the new site are also consistent with the graphics used by avalanche centers in other parts of the country. Moving the cursor across the map on the home page brings up a pop-up box with a clear danger rating and a graphic description of conditions.

Green said he envisions the new website as a three-tier product. The map-based information on the home page is the first tier, easily accessible for a quick review of conditions. The forecast discussion is the next level, requiring a bit more analysis.

The third level is raw data – snowfall amounts and snow density, wind speed, temperatures and so on. Greene said that the CAIC hopes to make more of that information available for people who want to look at the data without the CAIC’s interpretation.

The storm that blasted the Front Range and Southern mountains Wednesday prompted the CAIC to issue an avalanche warning for the Front Range mountains, extending from just south of I-70 up to the Wyoming border, including areas around Berthoud Pass, Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. In those areas, the avalanche danger was rated as high, with a strong likelihood of both natural and triggered slides. As of Thursday morning, the danger in Summit County was rated overall as moderate, with pockets of considerable.

CAIC forecasters said an explosive-triggered slide Wednesday broke down into old snow layers, fracturing four to eight feet deep and 400 feet wide. That slide highlights the potential for hard-to-trigger but potentially catastrophic avalanches.

Check out the new website at the same address: http://avalanche.state.co.us/ and call the local hotline for updated conditions at (970) 331-5996.

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