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Avalanche danger remains high in Turnagain Pass area

A continuous series of storms buffeting the parts of the Kenai Peninsula has ratcheted up the risk of avalanches in the Turnagain Pass area for the fourth consecutive day, according to an advisory from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

Alpine elevations in the area have received between four and five feet of snowfall since Wednesday, creating “widespread” avalanches that have been up to six feet deep, said Wendy Wagner, director of the avalanche information center.

“These avalanches that are occurring now are getting bigger and bigger as these storms keep piling snow in," Wagner said.

A screengrab of an avalanche advisory for the Turnagain Pass area from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center for March 16, 2019. (Screengrab Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.)

Heavy rainfall at lower elevations may also trigger avalanches, she said.

The storms have reached as far south as the Kenai Mountains near Seward.

The National Weather Service issued an avalanche warning on Thursday at the request of the avalanche information center.

Continuous storms that cause avalanche danger lasting a week or more aren’t unusual, Wagner said — they typically happen two or three times a season — but Turnagain Pass hasn’t seen a storm event like this one in a few years.

“It’s been pretty dry and a low snow pack,” Wagner said.

She advised travelers to stay out of the back country all together unless they are very familiar with the terrain and have avalanche training.

Even after the storms stop, the slopes remain at risk of human-triggered avalanches — the first day or two after a storm is when the most avalanche accidents happen, she said.

That storms may not stop several days, though. Wagner said the risk of avalanches is likely to “stay elevated with continued snow and rain and wind," though travelers should check the avalanche information center’s daily advisory for updates.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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