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More than 12 avalanches fall in Juneau

Thane Road is open again after slide shut it down Thursday

Posted: February 2, 2012 - 7:36pm  |  Updated: February 3, 2012 - 2:16am
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City and Borough of Juneau Avalanche Forecaster Tom Mattice watches as Department of Transportation crews clear snow from a natural avalanche at Snow Gulch Creek along Thane Road on Thursday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
City and Borough of Juneau Avalanche Forecaster Tom Mattice watches as Department of Transportation crews clear snow from a natural avalanche at Snow Gulch Creek along Thane Road on Thursday.

There have been more than a dozen reported natural avalanches around Juneau in the past 24 hours, and avalanche danger still remains high, according to a city official.

“Avalanche danger is high at this time and will remain high for the next 48 hours, even though some paths have shed,” City and Borough of Juneau Avalanche Forecaster Tom Mattice stated in an urban avalanche advisory.

No injuries or damages have been reported in any of the slides, which began Wednesday afternoon. The first avalanche reported was on Sunshine Path up the Perseverance trail basin. Berhends Path above Berhands Avenue was reportedly the next to go around 4 p.m. The Berhends avalanche probably had the most mass of the dozen, Mattice said. It stopped below Judy Avenue and above Troy Avenue, and stayed north of the closed road gates without affecting any residents.

“Everything’s stopping short of structures and houses which is good,” Mattice said in a phone interview.

Mt. Juneau’s Bathe Creek Path near the Cope Park area also saw an avalanche around that time.

White Path just north of Wickersham Avenue slid either Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and another avalanche large enough to reach the tide line ripped down the side of Mount Roberts and across Thane Road at midnight, blocking all traffic.

A Department of Transportation & Public Facilities crew cleared the road by 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and it is now back open to the public. Exact figures on the depth and width of the Thane Road avalanche were not available, but Mattice guessed it was about 20 feet deep and about 100 to 150 yards wide.

Another eight to nine avalanches slid on Thursday morning.

Mattice said this series of avalanches was nothing out of the ordinary and was probably caused by a brief spike in warmer temperatures midday Wednesday, on top of recent snowfall, rain and high winds.

“The combination of these events was enough to lead us into a direct action avalanche cycle,” he said. “The snowpack had reached maximum load capacity and the direct affect of the new snow, warming, and wind kicked off a natural avalanche cycle.”

When temperatures rise above freezing, Mattice says it loosens “the glue” that holds the snowpack together. Or, to use a metaphor, “When it goes above freezing, its turns the ice cube into a Slurpee, and things move a lot easier.”

The high avalanche danger advisory is to remain in effect until 7 p.m. Friday since more avalanches are expected. A high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service remains in effect until Friday afternoon. It calls for gusts of wind up to 60 mph, and perhaps higher along coastlines.

“The greatest indicator of avalanches is other avalanches,” he said.

A joint release from the city and the U.S. Forest Service urged people to avoid traveling in avalanche prone areas, the backcountry and trails for the next 48 hours. Areas of note include, but are not limited to, the Flume, Perseverance, Mount Roberts, Mount Juneau, Dan Moller and Dupont trails.

“Backcountry danger is also quite high!” Mattice wrote in the advisory. “I don’t think you would find me skiing in the backcountry today folks... Take a day to hide away ... and live to ski another day.”

For current avalanche conditions and additional information, go online to juneau.org/avalanche.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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