Slide larger than thought; warning system to go on line

Posted: Friday, January 26, 2007

An avalanche that cascaded within about 120 feet of a home in the Highlands neighborhood last weekend left a pile of dirty snow larger than first believed, an avalanche expert said.

"It was reported as small, but was actually decent-sized, leaving some 10 meters of debris over a fairly large area," said Bill Glude in an e-mail Wednesday. Glude is the director of the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center, a Juneau-based nonprofit organization that provides education and information about the region's avalanches.

The avalanche occurred Saturday night in a known chute. It caused no injury or structural damage but came about 120 feet from the nearest home on Judy Lane.

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As of Thursday, 115 inches of snow had fallen at the Juneau International Airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Ainsworth. That is far more than the 35 inches at this time last year. Normal snowfall is considered to be 56 inches per year in Juneau.

This year's unusually heavy snowfall should make the city's first avalanche forecasting system all the more welcome.

A Web site warning run by the Southeast Avalanche Center is slated for launch in mid-February. It will alert residents to the potential danger in two of Juneau's most precarious slide areas - the White and Behrends neighborhoods near downtown.

The site will be updated daily to show whether danger is low, moderate, serious or high. The center also plans to release daily "concerns," alerting people to both the probability of an avalanche and its expected size.

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The city of Juneau granted the $45,000 for the project, and additional funds have come in via donations. It is expected to be updated through mid-April.

So far, this year's snow has fallen slowly and steadily enough to prevent a large avalanche, Glude said.

"The nights of Jan. 14-15 and 20-21 brought our two largest cycles so far," he said.

Glude and a team plan to check the conditions on Mount Juneau next week, conditions permitting.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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