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Early snowfall in Utah calls for avalanche awareness

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The Utah Avalanche Center doesn’t normally start issuing forecasts until November, but early snowfall has them already talking about avalanche safety. Paige Pagnucco, Awareness Program Manager for the Utah Avalanche Center, said that once snow is on the ground, avalanches are possible.

“And in the early season, people may not be thinking that way, they're out hunting or maybe they are out skiing and snowboarding. So, we're just trying to get people thinking about avalanches and avalanche safety and in terms of where they're going, and what they're doing,” Pagnucco said.

Avalanche terrain refers to mountain areas with slopes of over 30 degrees. Its danger varies based many factors including weather, vegetation, snowpack, and temperature. Last year, Pagnucco said, the snowpack was unstable because of a weak bottom layer, a result of early snow followed by an extended dry period.

Avalanches that occur early in the season can cause more severe injuries, as there is less snow to cushion a fall. To avoid danger, be prepared and stay aware. Always travel with a partner and carry a beacon, shovel, and probe when in avalanche terrain. Pagnucco said there are many mountainous areas in Utah that are less risky for avalanches.

“Most of the time, there are plenty of places that you can go that are beautiful and safe. And you don't have to worry about avalanches, especially in our mountains, we have a lot of great terrain that's safe and enjoyable. It's just when you do get to these steeper areas, you have to increase your skill set, increase your awareness, increase your education to make sure that you can stay safe,” Pagnucco said.

Free, online programs are available through the Utah Avalanche Center to educate people about how to safely recreate outdoors. For more information, visit utahavalanchecenter.org.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.