23 Apr 2024
 | 23 Apr 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

A quantitative module of avalanche hazard—comparing forecaster assessments of storm and persistent slab avalanche problems with information derived from distributed snowpack simulations

Florian Herla, Pascal Haegeli, Simon Horton, and Patrick Mair

Abstract. Avalanche forecasting is a human judgment process with the goal of describing the nature and severity of avalanche hazard based on the concept of distinct avalanche problems. Snowpack simulations can help improve forecast consistency and quality by extending qualitative frameworks of avalanche hazard with quantitative links between weather, snowpack, and hazard characteristics. Building on existing research on modeling avalanche problem information, we present the first spatial modeling framework for extracting the characteristics of storm and persistent slab avalanche problems from distributed snowpack simulations. Grouping of simulated layers based on regional burial dates allows us to track them across space and time and calculate insightful spatial distributions of avalanche problem characteristics.

We applied our approach to ten winter seasons in Glacier National Park, Canada, and compared the numerical predictions to human hazard assessments. Despite good agreement in the seasonal summary statistics, the comparison of the daily assessments of avalanche problems revealed considerable differences between the two data sources. The best agreements were found in the presence and absence of storm slab avalanche problems and the likelihood and expected size assessments of persistent slab avalanche problems. Even though we are unable to conclusively determine whether the human or model data set represents reality more accurately when they disagree, our analysis indicates that the current model predictions can add value to the forecasting process by offering an independent perspective. For example, the numerical predictions can provide a valuable tool for assisting avalanche forecasters in the difficult decision to remove persistent slab avalanche problems. The value of the spatial approach is further highlighted by the observation that avalanche danger ratings were better explained by a combination of various percentiles of simulated instability and failure depth than by simple averages or proportions. Our study contributes to a growing body of research that aims to enhance the operational value of snowpack simulations and provides insight into how snowpack simulations can help address some of the operational challenges of human avalanche hazard assessments.

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Florian Herla, Pascal Haegeli, Simon Horton, and Patrick Mair

Status: open (until 12 Jun 2024)

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Florian Herla, Pascal Haegeli, Simon Horton, and Patrick Mair

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Quantitative module of avalanche hazard—Data and Code F. Herla, P. Haegeli, S. Horton, and P. Mair

Florian Herla, Pascal Haegeli, Simon Horton, and Patrick Mair


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Short summary
We present a spatial framework for extracting information about avalanche problems from detailed snowpack simulations and compare the numerical results against operational assessments from avalanche forecasters. Despite good aggreement in seasonal summary statistics, a comparison of daily assessments revealed considerable differences while it remained unclear which data source represented reality best. We discuss how snowpack simulations can add value to the forecasting process.