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March 1, 2012 at 1:28 PM

WWU creates new avalanche danger map

Backcountry skiers and snowboarders have a new tool to explore regional daily avalanche danger levels.

A web-based map, created by students and faculty at Western Washington University, takes the regional avalanche forecasts issued by the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and displays the same information spatially. This allows backcountry travelers to zoom into specific regions and examine the forecast avalanche danger. But it also prevents users from zooming in too closely, because the forecasts are regional, not site-specific.

The site also allows users to scroll back through a week’s worth of forecasts, which can help them understand how avalanche dangers change over time.

The mapping tool was created by the Institute for Spatial Information and Analysis at WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment. The director of the program, Michael Medler, began working with graduate students on avalanche-hazard visualization projects after a Mount Baker avalanche in 2004 buried several WWU students, killing one of them.

Last month, an avalanche killed three skiers at Stevens Pass, and a snowboarder at Snoqualmie’s Alpental ski area.

Mark Moore, a spokesman for the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, said it’s important for users to understand that even though these maps display the hazard danger for specific points on the map, the forecasts themselves are regional in nature.

“We do not want to imply that regional forecasts can be slope specific in their accuracy,” Moore said in a release about the new map “They cannot, and should not, be used for slope scale decisions, which should be left to the back country user,” he said.

Comments | More in General news, Weather Beat | Topics: avalanche, danger, Mount Baker

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