National Forest issues avalanches, flooding warning

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest warns winter recreationists that conditions are right for avalanches and flooding on National Forest System lands in Nevada and eastern California due to recent rain-on-snow events and warmer temperatures.

“When rainfall coincides with seasonal snow cover, the runoff of water can be much greater than what is produced from rain or snowmelt alone,” explained Forest Supervisor Bill Dunkelberger. “Also, the snowpack becomes heavier and more unstable, which increases the likelihood of an avalanche occurring.”

Winter recreationists who are heading out to enjoy skiing, cross country skiing, sledding, snow shoeing and snowmobiling on National Forest System lands, should always use defensive driving techniques by adjusting vehicle speed to current weather and road conditions and watching out for flooded roadways, washed-out culverts and bridges and fallen rocks and trees.

Be prepared to seek alternate routes, if necessary, but keep in mind that if the main route to your destination has been closed because of road conditions, alternative routes will most likely be impassable. It is a good idea to contact your local Forest Service office or visitor center for information on forest road conditions and seasonal closures. Please avoid unnecessary travel when extreme winter weather is predicted.

Drivers should also never attempt to drive through an area that has been flooded or where a debris flow has occurred. These types of events hide dips in roads and other obstacles. Worse still, there may not be a road at all. Flooding and debris flows can wash away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground beneath.

In addition, the wet weather has made unpaved Forest Service roads highly susceptible to surface damage. Forest’s roads can become damaged or erode when used during wet and saturated conditions. Proper and responsible use of Forest roads are important to ensure they remain in good shape for other visitors. Causing damage to roads and other Forest resources can be a violation of federal regulations, which could carry a fine up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail.

For those winter recreationists enjoying the backcountry, it is extremely important to avoid avalanche terrain especially when snowpack conditions are unstable. It is recommended to travel on valley floors away from large avalanche runouts, along ridgetops above avalanche paths, or on slopes less steep than 30 degrees and do not have steeper slopes above them.

When the snow cover is unstable, nature often broadcasts clear danger signals. Recent avalanches are the best clue. Snow that cracks, collapses, or makes hollow sounds is also considered unstable. Snow that has become wet from thaw or rain can also be dangerous. Do not travel in avalanche terrain after two nights of above freezing temperatures.

It is not entirely possible to eliminate risk when traveling in avalanche terrain, but it can be minimize by using good techniques: climb, descend, or cross avalanche areas one at a time and keep an eye on your partners; carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear; and turn back or alter route if signs of unstable snow are detected.

Backcountry enthusiasts should always have an avalanche transceiver (or beacon), shovel, probe and airbag, GPS for navigation (also accelerates rescue if you can provide GPS coordinates), and first aid kit. For more info, visit bit.ly/FSAvalancheSafetyTips

For additional winter recreation tips, visit bit.ly/WinterRecreationTips. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest posts road and trail closures, as they are reported, at bit.ly/Road_TrailConditions.

For additional information, contact fs.usda.gov/htnf or participate in the conversation at twitter.com/HumboldtToiyabe and facebook.com/HumboldtToiyabeNF/.