Crews use explosives to reduce Stevens Pass avalanche risk

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 6:45 PM

U.S. 2 at Stevens Pass was reopened Wednesday afternoon after crews cleared snow, trees, rocks and debris from a natural avalanche that occurred Wednesday morning.

Highway 2 was buried when a chute, or "shot," as the avalanche team calls it, opened up at about 9 a.m.

"This shot right behind us, shot four, which is our biggest performer, came in about four feet across the road across all four lanes,” said Brandon Levy/Avalanche Specialist, WSDOT.

But the mountain was just getting warmed up. There are five natural avalanche chutes in the area, that's why the call this stretch of Highway 2 “Old Faithful."

And when the avalanche teamed started blasting, Old Faithful let go of the snow.

"We shot our M-60 Battle Tank, shortly thereafter and produced more debris in this shot and the avalanches behind there,” said Levy.

Avalanche control is not just a ground game. Last week Stevens Pass Resort called in an air strike to trigger avalanches threatening popular out of bounds areas. They produced a video that shows them holding 50 pound bags of explosives, with the fuse burning inside a helicopter, and waiting for the right time to drop the bomb.
  
Their video shows what happened next – a major avalanche releasing its fury on anything in its path.  When these happen on their own, bad things happen to back country enthusiasts and with rain coming down in the high country, the avalanche risk goes up.

"Rain is kind of a threefold process. It weakens the bond between the drainages, because it's warmer than snow, it weakens those bonds. It also adds weight to the snow, the snow sponges it up and gets really heavy and the third thing is it can lubricate sliding surfaces,” said Levy.

It all adds up increased avalanche danger and  as long as the rain keeps coming, so will the bombs.   

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