‘Lots to consider in the mountains’: Monday’s harmless avalanche on Mt. Juneau could be a sign of more to come

An avalanche from Mt. Juneau on Jan. 4. Juneau’s avalanche danger is considerable, and conditions are forecast to get worse. (video screenshot courtesy of Jess Parks)

Scott Cichoracki works for the Coast Guard search and rescue command center. He was on his way into Juneau’s Federal Building when he heard something that stopped him in his tracks.

“It kind of sounded like a plow truck when they’re scraping the road,” he said. “That’s what I thought it was. And I turned around to look, and I saw it up on the mountain and thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s an avalanche.’”

Cichoracki said he forgot to press record on his phone. But a video posted on social media by Jess Parks captured the Mt. Juneau avalanche from Douglas Island. In the video, it looks like the avalanche might have come down to the Flume Trail.

Avalanche on Mt. Juneau on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020

WATCH: An avalanche rolls down Mt. Juneau on Monday. The avalanche looks like it might have come down to the Flume Trail but no one has been able to check because of avalanche danger. Emergency officials say the avalanche could be a sign of more to come. https://bit.ly/2XfjHYM

Posted by KTOO on Tuesday, January 5, 2021

 

Juneau emergency programs manager Tom Mattice said it was a wind slab avalanche from Chop Gully that produced a large powder cloud but not a lot of debris. He said events like these are common, and they seldom reach the Flume Trail.

Alaska Electric Light and Power spokesperson Debbie Driscoll says that’s probably true for this slide, but no one has been able to walk the trail to check because of the avalanche danger.

In the urban avalanche advisory for Tuesday, Mattice wrote that recent storms have brought cycles of snow, rain and freezing mist, leading to a snowpack that was “definitely developing more questionable weak layers.” Add to that warming temperatures and wind-loaded slopes, and Mattice says there’s “lots to consider in the mountains at this time.”

The current avalanche danger is “considerable” — which is level three out of a scale that goes up to five.

“It wouldn’t take much to turn danger to HIGH today,” Mattice wrote. “If we see more warming than expected, more precipitation, or wind, any one of these could be enough to start to trigger more widespread natural avalanche events.”

Cichoracki says he’s glad Monday morning’s avalanche turned out to be harmless — because it was fun to watch.

“It was pretty cool to see,” he said. “Just nature being awesome.”

Ian Dickson

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