Characterizing the nature and variability of avalanche hazard in western Canada
Abstract. The snow and avalanche climate types maritime, continental and transitional are well established and have been used extensively to characterize the general nature of avalanche hazard at a location, study inter-seasonal and large-scale spatial variabilities and provide context for the design of avalanche safety operations. While researchers and practitioners have an experience-based understanding of the avalanche hazard associated with the three climate types, no studies have described the hazard character of an avalanche climate in detail. Since the 2009/2010 winter, the consistent use of Statham et al. (2017) conceptual model of avalanche hazard in public avalanche bulletins in Canada has created a new quantitative record of avalanche hazard that offers novel opportunities for addressing this knowledge gap. We identified typical daily avalanche hazard situations using self-organizing maps (SOMs) and then calculated seasonal prevalence values of these situations. This approach produces a concise characterization that is conducive to statistical analyses, but still provides a comprehensive picture that is informative for avalanche risk management due to its link to avalanche problem types. Hazard situation prevalence values for individual seasons, elevations bands and forecast regions provide unprecedented insight into the inter-seasonal and spatial variability of avalanche hazard in western Canada.