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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2020-302
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2020-302
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  08 Oct 2020

08 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Synoptic atmospheric circulation patterns associated with deep persistent slab avalanches in the western United States

Andrew R. Schauer1, Jordy Hendrikx1, Karl W. Birkeland2,1, and Cary J. Mock3 Andrew R. Schauer et al.
  • 1Snow and Avalanche Lab, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, P.O. Box 173480, Bozeman, MT, 59717, USA
  • 2USDA Forest Service National Avalanche Center, P.O. Box 130, Bozeman, MT, 59771, USA
  • 3Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 29208-0001

Abstract. Deep persistent slab avalanches are capable of destroying infrastructure and are usually unsurvivable to those who are caught. Formation of a snowpack conducive to deep persistent slab avalanches is typically driven by meteorological conditions occurring in the beginning weeks to months of the winter season, and yet the avalanche event may not occur for several weeks to months later. While predicting the exact timing of the release of deep persistent slab avalanches is difficult, onset of avalanche activity is commonly preceded by rapid warming, heavy precipitation, or high winds. This work investigates the synoptic drivers of deep persistent slab avalanches at three sites in the Western USA with long records: Bridger Bowl, Montana; Jackson, Wyoming; and Mammoth Mountain, California. We use self-organizing maps to generate twenty synoptic types that summarize 5,899 daily 500 mb geopotential height maps for the winters (November–March) of 1979/80–2017/18. For each of the three locations, we identify major and minor deep persistent slab avalanche seasons, and analyze the number of days represented by each synoptic type during the beginning (November–January) of the major and minor seasons. We also examine the number of days assigned to each synoptic type during the 72 hours preceding deep persistent slab avalanche activity for both dry and wet slab events. Each of the three sites exhibits a unique distribution of the number of days assigned to each synoptic type during November–January of major and minor seasons, and for the 72-hour period preceding deep persistent slab avalanche activity. This work identifies the synoptic scale atmospheric circulation patterns contributing to deep persistent slab instabilities, and the patterns that commonly precede deep persistent slab avalanche activity. By identifying these patterns, we provide an improved understanding of deep persistent slab avalanches, and an additional tool to anticipate the timing of these difficult-to-predict events.

Andrew R. Schauer et al.

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Andrew R. Schauer et al.

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North American Winter Season (Nov-Mar) 500 mb geopotential height classification scheme, 1979-2018. Andrew Schauer https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.12jm63xw6

Andrew R. Schauer et al.

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Short summary
Our research links upper-atmospheric circulation patterns to a destructive and difficult to predict type of snow avalanche in the western United States. At each of our study sites, we find unique circulation patterns that tend to occur in the beginning of the winter season during years with major avalanche activity. We also find specific patterns that occur frequently in the days leading to major avalanche events. This work will enable practitioners to better anticipate these challenging events.
Our research links upper-atmospheric circulation patterns to a destructive and difficult to...
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