With forecasters calling for snow measured in feet and 170 mph winds over the Sierra crest, avalanches are a concern. Backcountry travelers have to contend with avalanche conditions all winter; but when the big storms come in, homes in some of the higher communities in the Eastern Sierra can be threatened.
In past years, avalanches have shut down 395 near Lee Vining and the Deadmans Summit area. Communities such as Aspendell, in the Bishop Creek Drainage, have been threatened. Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze reports that the county may send a snow cat to patrol that area if needed.
Two years ago after another big January storm, Mono County Sheriff rescuers attempting to reach homes at Twin Lakes near Bridgeport were caught in a slide. No one was hurt, but they lost a snowmobile and their snow cat was buried.
Some forecasters are calling for snowfall rates up to 6 an hour in places. With the potential for snow to accumulate so fast, slides are likely. Where and when is always tricky to determine. Sue Burak, the avalanche forecaster for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, reports that after a few hours of heavy snow, the new snow doesnt have enough time to adjust and can slide. With the potential for off the chart, snow loads, Burak says that there is little chance that snow will stay still on the steep slopes.
Burak reports that slopes may slide several times during the course of the next 3 days. When the skies clear, we wont be able to tell the avalanche history of a particular slope because of wind and new snow. However, I am sure we will see lots of recent slides and old debris piles, she says.
The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center website is the resource for local avalanche conditions. The site is usually focused on avalanche conditions for back country skiers and travelers; but when the snow comes in deep like forecasters anticipate, the backcountry comes closer to home. The website is esavalanche.org.