Avalanche Forecasters Say Rocky Mountain Region Now At Higher Risk ~ NPR

FROMAspen Public Radio

Storms sweeping across the Rocky Mountains this winter have caused the highest avalanche danger since the ratings started in 1973. More than 3,000 avalanches already have taken place in Colorado alone, and they’re unusually large.

White River National Forest lies just outside of Aspen. Part of the forest is known as Highlands Ridge.

The valley below that ridge is now buried because of an avalanche. The snow is deep enough that treetops barely poke out. The trees that aren’t buried haven’t fared much better.

“Old 50-foot, 60-foot, 70-foot trees have been snapped like toothpicks,” says Zachary Paris, property manager for the house at the bottom of two new avalanche paths below the ridge.

A one-mile-long section of Highlands Ridge collapsed under its own weight earlier this month, sending a cascade of snow and debris onto the valley floor below.

“We’re probably standing on a 20-, 30-foot pile right now,” Paris says.

More avalanches, larger avalanches

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center estimates that the Highlands Ridge slide could be the largest in almost 300 years and that it reached speeds of more than 110 miles per hour.

“We’re seeing much more of these large and destructive avalanches,” says Brian Lazar, a deputy director of the center.

Avalanches are rated on a scale out of 1 to 5. The Highlands Ridge snow slide was a 4.5. It’s just one of the hundreds of record-breaking slides triggered in Colorado’s high country so far this year.

“We saw more in the first 10 days of March than we’d typically see in a five-year period,” Lazar says.

His research suggests that, as the climate warms, wet snow avalanches like those he’s seeing now could start two to four weeks earlier than normal. That means a longer avalanche season.

“We’re certainly starting to see weather patterns which are intimately tied to avalanche activity that is different than what we’ve seen in past years,” Lazar says.

Longer avalanche season

A longer season with warmer weather means an uptick in slides is likely, which makes controlling avalanches in ski areas like Aspen difficult.

Aspen Ski Patrol uses charges — little bombs — to trigger slides in controlled conditions to prevent catastrophic and deadly avalanches. These explosions can be heard from downtown Aspen after a big snow storm.

Aspen Ski Patrol doesn’t release specifics about how many blasts it sets off for avalanche control, but it does say it’s increased the number of charges this season and spent more time mitigating avalanches.

Avalanche season isn’t over. According to Lazar, as temperatures go up, so can avalanche danger

He says when “things start to melt, we can see a spike in wet avalanche activity.”

That means Colorado can expect to see more slides in what has already been a record-breaking season.

Silverton officials close county roads, discourage backcountry use

It does not appear crews will trigger avalanches on Kendall Mountain
The Colorado Department of Transportation triggered a slide in 2013 along U.S. Highway 550 near Silverton. The town of Silverton and San Juan County are considering whether to close the backcountry to recreationists because of considerable avalanche danger.

Massacre of Children in Peru Might Have Been a Sacrifice to Stop Bad Weather ~ NYT

CreditCreditJohn Verano

Last year archaeologists in Peru announced the discovery of a centuries-old ritual massacre, at a site they believed was the largest known case of child sacrifice ever found.

Buried beneath the sands of a 15th-century site called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas were nearly 140 child skeletons, as well as the remains of 200 llamas.

While the reasoning behind the gruesome mass murder of the boys and girls — who were only between the ages of 5 and 14 — cannot be definitively determined, the researchers now say the act was done out of desperation in response to a disastrous climatic event: El Niño.

“What we seem to have at Huanchaquito-Las Llamas is a sacrifice to stop torrential rains, flooding and mudflows,” said John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University and an author of the paper, which was published Wednesday in PLOS One.

 

The finding provides insight into the rituals of the ancient Chimú civilization that inhabited Peru’s northern coast. It also attempts to piece together the story behind why people murdered these children, presumably by cutting open their chests and ripping out their hearts.

One day in 2011 a man named Michele Spano Pescara approached Gabriel Prieto, an archaeologist at the National University of Trujillo in Peru. He said that his children had dug up bones near his home. When Dr. Prieto followed the man to the site, he was astonished.

“There were so many complete human remains and complete bodies in perfect states of preservation everywhere,” said Dr. Prieto, who led the study.

Dr. Prieto called in a colleague, Katya Valladares, who investigated the skeletons and identified cut marks on many of the children’s sternums. That indicated that the burial site was not a group cemetery, but rather the location of an orchestrated killing event.

From 2011 to 2016, Dr. Prieto and his colleagues dug up 137 complete child skeletons and the remains of more than 200 llamas in an area that stretched about 7,500 square feet.

Some bodies had been buried in cloth, some wore cotton headdresses and others had red-cinnabar paint preserved on their skulls. Buried beside many of the victims were young llamas, each less than 18 months old. They too were sacrificed. The team noticed that the children were buried facing west to the coast while the llamas faced east to the Andes Mountains.

Using radiocarbon dating, the site was dated to about 1450 A.D., which placed it at a time before the neighboring Inca empire invaded. The team also attempted to collect DNA from the teeth of some victims but were only successful in a fraction of cases. What they got was enough to tell them that both boys and girls were present, meaning the sacrifice wasn’t gender specific. Further DNA analysis could help determine whether the children were local or if they came from across the Chimú state, but based on some morphological details the team thinks the victims came from around the empire.

A major clue to figuring out why the Chimú sacrificed the children came in the form of a thick mud layer preserved on top of the sand where the victims were buried. Because the area is a desert, the mud layer indicated there was once a period of heavy rain, like that seen during an El Niño, or a natural warming of the Pacific Ocean’s surface waters that has cascading effects on the weather. Such a deluge would have devastated the Chimú state, flooding crops, killing fish and sweeping people away.

Also in this mud layer, the scientists found preserved footsteps of sandaled adults and barefoot children, as well as signs that the llamas were dragged there. The children, it appeared, were marched to the site, which was just on the outskirts of the Chimú capital city, Chan Chan. The killings, the authors suggest, were done at the order of the Chimú state as an appeal to their gods or ancestral spirits to mitigate the rains.

“The picture that starts to emerge is that under conditions of severe climatic disruption, the sacrifice of children may have been the most powerful means of communication with the supernatural,” said Haagen Klaus, a bioarchaeologist from George Mason University in Virginia not involved in the study.

Tiffiny Tung, a bioarchaeologist at Vanderbilt University also not involved in the study, said that in addition to illuminating the Chimú’s rituals, the finding provides a look into the state’s political machinery. The sacrifice, she said, would have let the Chimú leaders demonstrate to their people the lengths to which they would go to appease the deities and protect the community. At the same time, carrying out such a massive slaughter of children would have been a reminder of the leaders’ power and authority over their citizens.

“That’s a great way to get people to step in line,” she said.

The United States just had its wettest winter on record

Precipitation differences from normal over the winter months of December, January and February. (NOAA)

March 6 at 4:39 PM

Boosted by February’s relentless low-elevation rains and blockbuster mountain snows, the United States notched its wettest winter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The average precipitation, including rain and melted snow, was 9.01 inches during meteorological winter, which spans December, January and February. That amount was 2.22 inches above normal and broke the record of 8.99 inches set during the winter of 1997-1998.

Both the winters of 1997-1998 and the present featured El Niño events, which tend to increase the flow of Pacific moisture into the Lower 48 states.

Of the three winter months this year, the finale was particularly soggy, ranking second-wettest on record. Nineteen states posted one of their 10 wettest Februaries. Tennessee registered its wettest February, while the month ranked second-wettest in Kentucky and Wisconsin.

February precipitation differences from normal. (NOAA)

The February deluges in the Tennessee Valley spurred flooding along the Mississippi River and mudslides in Tennessee and North Carolina.

From the mid-South to the Tennessee Valley, record February rainfall was logged in numerous population centers, including Knoxville (13.08 inches); Nashville (13.47 inches); Bristol, Tenn. (10.47 inches); Tupelo, Miss. (15.61 inches); Muscle Shoals, Ala. (14.13 inches); and Huntsville, Ala. (13.63 inches).


A backyard on Pryor Road in Decatur, Ala., is flooded Feb. 22, 2019. (Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily/AP)

Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The Washington Post that a record 5.5 percent of the Lower 48 received more than 10 inches of rain in February.

Heavy precipitation visited the northern tier, as well.

The zone from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes was hit repeatedly by winter storms that unloaded historic amounts of snow.

Record February snowfall was observed in Seattle (20.2 inches); Pendleton, Ore. (32.5 inches); Great Falls, Mont. (31.3 inches); Rochester, Minn. (40.0 inches); Minneapolis (39.0 inches); and Eau Claire, Wis. (53.7 inches).

In addition, numerous ski areas in the Sierra Nevada, blasted by a series of atmospheric rivers, witnessed record snowfall in February. Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley reported record snowfall over 200 inches.


This photo provided by the California Highway Patrol Truckee Division shows a patrol vehicle navigating a stretch of Interstate 80 in the Donner Pass area of the Sierra Nevada, just west of Truckee, Calif., that remained closed Feb. 27. (California Highway Patrol/AP)

For the winter overall, all but five of the Lower 48 states reported above-normal precipitation.

U.S. precipitation over the past three, six and 12 months has been unsurpassed.

While precipitation over a short period cannot be conclusively linked to climate change, a greater frequency of heavy downpours is projected in a warming world, which would increase the likelihood of any given period being abnormally wet.

Backcountry skier killed in avalanche near Lizard Head Pass

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 7.23.49 AM.png

 

On Sunday, March 3, 2019, a backcountry skier was reported overdue near the Matterhorn nordic trail system north of Trout Lake, near Lizard Head Pass. Two members of San Miguel County Search and Rescue were flown in via helicopter and spotted a large avalanche and debris pile, but it was late in the day and there was still risk from further avalanches. They planned for a search and rescue mission the following day.

On Monday, March 4, San Miguel Search and Rescue and the Telluride Ski Patrol sent search teams. Search teams concentrated on a large pile of avalanche debris east of Priest Lake in an area locally know as Base Camp 1. Search dogs alerted, and rescuers confirmed the body of the missing skier using probes. He was buried approximately 1 meter deep. The avalanche appeared to be triggered by the skier as indicated by the visible ski track. This was a soft slab avalanche that broke around 100 feet wide and ran at least 400 vertical feet. It released on a south-facing slope at an elevation of approximately 10500 feet. It was very small relative to the path and large enough to bury, injure, or kill a person (SS-ASu-R2-D2)    CAICScreen Shot 2019-03-05 at 7.24.02 AM.png

photo credit, Telluride Helitrax