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Heavy snowfall and high winds on Kenai Peninsula trigger unusual avalanche warning

A massive snowstorm that blanketed the Kenai Peninsula from Seward to Girdwood triggered an urgent warning from avalanche forecasters.

Stay off the slopes when the clouds clear this weekend.

Powder-starved snowmachiners, skier and snowboarders — even people walking on Portage Lake near slopes — need to know that the combination of heavy snow and wind sets up the risk for large avalanches through the weekend, forecasters say.

Given the combination of high danger and clearing weather in time for the weekend, the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center issued a special avalanche bulletin warning of the danger Friday afternoon.

"Dangerous avalanche conditions will exist through the weekend due to two to four feet of snow that has fallen on an unstable base," the bulletin said. "Human triggered large avalanches are likely on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. …

"If skies clear for travel into the alpine elevations, careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision making skills will be necessary to identify and avoid unstable slopes."

The special avalanche bulletin is in effect from 4 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday for Turnagain Pass and areas around eastern Turnagain Arm, including the Kenai and Western Chugach mountains.

The center issues such bulletins just once or twice a year, forecaster Wendy Wagner said. They run on the center's website but are also issued by the National Weather Service.

"It's targeting people that want to enjoy the powder at a time when the sky's clear enough they can actually get somewhere," Wagner said. People may not even realize the danger otherwise.

She was part of a group headed out to check conditions midday Friday as the snow continued to fall.

The center posted an advisory for Turnagain Pass, where 2 to 3 feet of snow fell Thursday into Friday morning: high danger at all elevations where natural and human-caused avalanches 2 to 4 feet deep or more are likely.

"An avalanche from above could run farther and faster than expected and has the potential to reach valley bottoms," the advisory states. "Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended including being under the runout of larger slopes above. This will be extra important for the popular areas of Placer Valley, Turnagain Pass and Portage Lake."

Heading into the weekend, more heavy snow was expected across Western Prince William Sound. A winter storm warning was in effect until 5 a.m. Saturday, warning of winds gusting at 35 miles per hour and snow accumulations between 3 and 7 inches.

Snow totals as of Friday morning around the Peninsula ranged from under 4 inches in Homer and 5 to 6 inches in Seward to 2 feet west of Whittier and more than 28 inches in Turnagain Pass, according to local storm reports provided by the National Weather Service online.

Bristol Bay got hammered by the same storm, recording nearly 1 1/2 feet as of Thursday afternoon at the King Salmon Airport since Wednesday and blizzard conditions Thursday.

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