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What Causes Avalanches?

Written by: blythe

What Causes Avalanches? Avalanches are obviously dangerous and unpredictable. That is why, as part of avalanche awareness, one must know what causes an avalanche in order to prepare oneself when faced with this situation. An avalanche can be due to one or more factors. In this section, get familiar with the different factors that can cause an avalanche:

Weather might be the biggest factor that can cause an avalanche. It plays a huge role in the development of snow on the ground. One must consider the weather days before the scheduled trip so as to know if it is safe to continue or not. Moreover, rapid change in weather can have bad effects on snow for snowpacks do not adapt easily to rapid changes.

The snowpack is not what you think it may seem on the surface. It may appear as a thin cover, but if you look at the cross-section of it, you may see several layers of snow that had developed through time. Snow builds up over the season, and during winter, a thicker layer is added to the previous one. Also, bonds between layers may be strong or weak. Avalanches occur if the bond is weak. Even if you have a strong bond in the upper layers of the snowpack, an avalanche may happen if the layers beneath it are weak.

Snow builds up on slopes. If the slope is too steep, one can expect an avalanche to happen. Avalanches develop on slopes between 25°- 55° and it starts on slopes between the 35°- 45° range. This is quite steep since the ideal angle for slopes so as not to develop an avalanche is 38°. This is the angle of repose – the steepest angle a granular substance can maintain without collapsing under the pull of gravity. And since snow is a granular substance, its target angle is 38°.

On low-angled slopes, snow can start moving only if it is heavily loaded. But on steep slopes, the snow does not form slabs. Instead, it slides down continuously. Though slopes should be steep in order to start an avalanche, that does not necessarily mean than slopes with low angle are completely safe. Of course, it still depends on many conditions such as temperature and weather. Even a shallow snowpack on a safe slope can still trigger an avalanche. If it is spring time, when snowpack carry free water around the snow grain, avalanche will behave more like water and it will slide down even on low terrain.

One can measure the slope angle with an inclinometer, or “eyeball" it by dangling a Ski Pole by the strap and estimating the angle. One must also keep in mind that a slope may vary in steepness and may require different techniques to be able to trek it safely.

One must remember that avalanche is not solely caused by one factor. There would be times that all three factors are present. Knowing these factors can help a person be more observant of his surroundings and think twice before having fun on the snow.

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Article Comments
Wednesday 10th June 2009 at 3:13:58 PM  

I found this very helpful, thankyou very much! :)

Monday 5th October 2009 at 10:19:50 AM  

your awesome

Thursday 5th November 2009 at 9:19:09 AM  

i love you with the passion of a thousand hot and firey suns.

Friday 29th January 2010 at 5:03:03 AM  

i found this very helpful thank you very much

f u
Tuesday 23rd March 2010 at 4:24:41 PM  

how are avalanches started

Tim Bim
Thursday 8th April 2010 at 7:43:22 PM  

coooooooooooooool! now i wont be in a thrird time avalanche! yay!

Tuesday 20th April 2010 at 8:52:20 PM  

Good job on this info nice :-)

Kira Weaver
Tuesday 18th May 2010 at 12:03:23 PM  

OMG... thank you, thank you!! I really needed some information on this topic! You are awesome!

Monday 12th July 2010 at 3:17:24 PM  

thank you i needed this for my climb it project thank you so much!!!!!

Ntombikayise Xulu
Tuesday 14th September 2010 at 12:00:28 PM  

Thank you very much.I needed this for my assignment.keep the good work. Thank you again

Monday 12th September 2011 at 12:00:22 PM  

thanks a lot, it is really important information. keep up!

Thursday 3rd November 2011 at 10:30:24 AM  

this helped me alot on my avalanche report thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday 19th January 2012 at 3:50:00 PM  

ThanX! and super helpful. I''m doing a report on "Avalanches".

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