Colorado Avalanche Information Center rolls out new website, upgrades as winter rolls into town

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is launching a new website, changing the way it creates forecast zones and when it issues forecasts for a better user experience this winter.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy Photo

As the snow continues to stack up and the local resorts prepare for the start of ski season, another critical winter resource is rolling out changes to help residents and visitors safely navigate another Colorado winter.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, also known as CAIC, issued its first daily weather and avalanche forecast of the season on Tuesday, Nov. 1 — also announcing a new website and other changes to its forecasting resources.

“Colorado has a lot of people that are living and working and visiting and recreating and traveling through the mountains. Our state, if you look at where people live and where the roads run, it doesn’t just go around the mountains, it goes right through the mountains,” said Ethan Greene, the center’s director.

“With that, avalanches in the winter time became a pretty important element for people; they really affect a lot of what people do, whether it’s the movement of services along the state transportation system, safety of infrastructure, and in some cases, occupied structures and certainly, recreation.”

Not only that, but Colorado — both historically and annually — is the deadliest state for avalanches, killing more people than any other natural hazard in the state, Greene added.

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With that, the new upgrades to the CAIC website and forecast resources aim to “provide a better service to the people who live work and recreate and visit the state of Colorado,” Greene said.

To this end, there are three main changes that the center made this year.

The first is a new, modernized website, which should run faster, be easier to use on a variety of devices and provide an overall better service to its users, Greene said. The change begins on the homepage, which now features a map of the current avalanche danger in the state, with travel advice provided as you scroll across the map. It also allows users to customize the homepage to meet their needs, including enabling users to bookmark certain forecast zones.

However, the user will still face a similar experience as before in terms of expected content, menu items and how forecasts are laid out. Each forecast zone will provide an avalanche forecast, forecast discussion and weather forecast.

The new Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides a new experience for users, including a map of current avalanche danger on the homepage.

However, the center did roll out some changes to the actual forecast zones, making them more dynamic, with the center issuing forecasts for areas with similar conditions rather than being “confined by a pre-determined set of geographic areas,” Greene said.

A blog post announcing these new changes goes into the history of CAIC and how its forecasting has evolved since it first began issuing statewide alerts in the late 1960s as the Colorado Avalanche Warning Program. The program became the CAIC in the early 1980s and began issuing avalanche forecasts for three zones (Northern, Central and Southern) in the 1990s and growing into 10 zones in 2006.

“This season we take the next step. Instead of writing a forecast for avalanche conditions in a predefined zone, the new platform allows us to select an area for each forecast based on the avalanche conditions,” the blog post reported.  

This means, it continues, that as the center prepares its daily avalanche forecasts, it will determine where in the state center officials are seeing similar conditions.

According to the post, this means that some days there will be less than 10 zones and some days “during stormy periods where different parts of the state see drastically different amounts of new snow,” there may be more than 10.

“As we find more ways of getting data from around the state and improve our modeling program, you may see the number of forecast zones grow,” it reads.

The final change the center is rolling out is a change in when it will produce its avalanche forecasts. Previously, the forecasts were published in the early morning, but now they will be issued at 4:30 p.m. each day for the following two days.

“(By) issuing the forecasts earlier, about 12 hours earlier, we hope to give people more lead time so that they can plan better,” Greene said.

And on days when the snow is significantly more or less than expected, these forecasts will still be adjusted and updated to provide a “valid forecast,” according to the blog.

A lot goes into these avalanche forecasts.

“Avalanches are a natural hazard that affects several different spheres of our world, of the cryosphere, of the terrain, of the weather,” Greene said. “We’re doing a lot of different work to predict avalanches.”

This includes having people all over the state in the field, making observations and measurements; using a “network of remote, environmental fencing equipment” covering large geographic areas to collect data automatically; running models of weather and snowpack; collaborating with other government and public safety groups and including the National Weather Service’s suite of weather tools; and more. 

With these changes launched at the start of winter, CAIC intends to keep providing improvements and new tools including new observation forms later this winter, map displays, a field resort explorer, and more.

As this later weather storm rolls into town — bringing with it around 6 inches of snow to Vail and Beaver Creek, according to OpenSnow — these tools are up-and-running for those looking to get out and enjoy the snow.

According to the CAIC’s forecast discussion for the Central Mountain Region, this “potent storm” will keep avalanche danger at moderate. The most dangerous slopes will be “high-elevation, northerly-facing gullies and shady bowls,” the report adds.

Already, the center is reporting that you may see “avalanches big enough to bury or kill you,” including a “close call” at the Greg Mace peak this week near Aspen. 

Visit Avalanche.State.CO.US to view the most recent forecasts and explore its new website.

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