CORNER BROOK — Keith Nicol says a snow avalanche hazard alert issued for the Maritime provinces earlier this week should have warned everyone in Atlantic Canada to be cautious in the great outdoors.
The geography professor, and local avalanche awareness expert, said it may have been a mistake on behalf of someone who misunderstood Newfoundland and Labrador is not usually included when referring to the Maritimes — a term that normally only refers to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Nonetheless, Nicol said the same conditions which prompted the Maritime avalanche warning exist in Newfoundland and Labrador too. He said such a widespread alert across Atlantic Canada was “unprecedented.”
The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued the alert after it was notified of recent avalanche activity in the Wentworth Valley area of Nova Scotia.
This alert applies to anywhere the recent stormy weather deposited 20 centimetres or more of new snow. Areas where a hard or icy crust underlies the new snow are of particular concern, as are places where windblown snow has formed firm drifts.
Where these conditions exist, the Canadian Avalanche Centre recommends avoiding steep slopes, gullies and places where sliding snow could push someone into a creek or lake.
“I haven’t heard of any avalanche activity in western Newfoundland yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff going on out there we don’t know about or stuff just waiting to happen,” said Nicol. “We’re getting the same kind of weather, but we’ve got more snow.”
Rainfall earlier in February, followed by colder weather, would have created a crusty layer of snow on top of which fresher layers of snow have since accumulated. Those top layers, under the right conditions, are now likely susceptible to sliding off the crusty layer beneath the surface, creating an avalanche.
Milder temperatures later in the week may have also made the upper layer a little heavier and even more likely to slough off the crusty layer below.
“There’s also been a lot wind, particularly in this past Sunday’s storm, which has redeposited a lot of this snow,” added Nicol.
It is difficult to predict where a significant snow slide will occur. Nicol said the two reported incidents in Nova Scotia happened in places where there has been little, if any, activity historically.
At this point in the winter, Nicol usually has been in the backcountry on his cross-country skis and has dug several test holes to examine the layers of snow for the susceptibility to avalanche activity. He had been out of province for the past three weeks, so he has not done that lately.
He is still in the process of trying to gather information from his regular contacts who have been in dangerous areas.
Nicol urged anyone heading into the backcountry — particularly the Gros Morne, Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountains areas — or anywhere, to be aware of their surroundings and be cautious when snowmobiling, skiing or snowshoeing.
He would also like anyone who has seen any evidence of avalanche activity to contact him. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If temperatures increase, or if more snow and wind occur, the avalanche hazard will increase. The Canadian Avalanche Centre recommends that parents supervise children carefully when outdoors on snow-covered slopes.
Those who are venturing onto steep slopes should be prepared with safety equipment. A probe and shovel are necessary to find and dig out anyone who might be caught. Avalanche transceivers are strongly encouraged if heading onto larger slopes.