Item: Natural avalanches and transportation: a case study from glacier national park, montana, usa
Title: Natural avalanches and transportation: a case study from glacier national park, montana, usa
Proceedings: Proceedings of the 2004 International Snow Science Workshop, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Authors: Blase A. Reardon, Daniel B. Fagre USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, West Glacier, MT Richard W. Steiner Glacier Country Avalanche Center, Inc.
Abstract: In January 2004, two natural avalanches (destructive class 3) derailed a freight train in John F. Stevens Canyon, on the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The railroad tracks were closed for 29 hours due to cleanup and lingering avalanche hazard, backing up 112km of trains and shutting down Amtrak’s passenger service. The incident marked the fourth time in three winters that natural avalanches have disrupted transportation in the canyon, which is also the route of U.S. Highway 2. It was the latest in a 94-year history of accidents that includes three fatalities and the destruction of a major highway bridge. Despite that history and the presence of over 40 avalanche paths in the 16km canyon, mitigation is limited to nine railroad snow sheds and occasional highway closures. This case study examines natural avalanche cycles of the past 28 winters using data from field observations, a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL station, and data collected since 2001 at a high elevation weather station. The avalanches occurred when storms with sustained snowfall buried a persistent near-surface faceted layer and/or were followed by rain-on-snow or dramatic warming (as much as 21oC in 30 minutes). Natural avalanche activity peaked when temperatures clustered near freezing (mean of -1.5oC at 1800m elev.). Avalanches initiated through rapid loading, rain falling on new snow, and/ or temperature-related changes in the mechanical properties of slabs. Lastly, the case study describes how recent incidents have prompted a unique partnership of land management agencies, private corporations and non-profit organizations to develop an avalanche mitigation program for the transportation corridor.
Keywords: avalanche history, avalanche forecasting, natural hazards, northern rocky mountains
Digital Abstract Not Available