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Avalanche danger heats up in Utah

Utah's avalanche forecasters say warm spring days sandwiched between lingering snowstorms mean an increased risk of avalanches.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Utah's avalanche forecasters said that warm spring days sandwiched between lingering snowstorms high in the mountains mean an increased risk of avalanches.

"Right now it sort of spikes like an EKG monitor," said Drew Hardesty, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.

Avalanche dangers can increase quickly in unpredictable spring weather patterns, Hardesty said.

After unsettled weather Tuesday, Utah can expect a break with dry, springlike conditions starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing into Saturday night, according to Chris Gibson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

But with a warm spring sun, Hardesty said, surface snow on sun-exposed slopes melts and percolates underneath, increasing the chance for what he calls a "wet" avalanche as the base beneath erodes away and weakens.

Avalanche risks further increase if new powder snow falls in a short period on more dense, wetter layers already on the ground. The line between the two types of snow is weak, and the new snow can slide off easily, Hardesty said.

There have been two avalanche-related deaths in Utah this winter, down from a record eight last winter.

Hardesty urged anyone traveling outside patrolled ski areas in the mountains to consult the avalanche center's Web site,, or call 801-364-1581.