New weather station will monitor the pass

 

July 5, 2018



Whether you use Haines Pass to backcountry ski or get to the Alaska Highway, you can head out a little more informed this winter. An automated weather station will be built about 30 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border to collect data and more accurately monitor conditions in the area.

The Haines Avalanche Center will partner with the Yukon Avalanche Association to get the station up and running. The Yukon association will lead the administration, purchase and installation of the station along the Haines Highway, and the Haines center will help with installation, picking the site and site maintenance, said Erik Stevens, director and founder of the Haines Avalanche Center.

“Haines Pass is quite a bit closer to Haines than Whitehorse, where the Yukon Avalanche Association is based, so it made sense for us to have a hand and help maintain it,” Stevens said.

The Yukon Avalanche Association secured $20,000 in funding from the Yukon government for the project. Stevens said the Canadian money is a “shoestring budget,” but that it should be enough to cover the cost of the equipment, especially with expected equipment donations by the Yukon center. All of the time put into building and maintaining the station, however, will be volunteer labor.


“It should take one or two days to build the station,” Stevens said, and it will require at least annual maintenance to lubricate any moving parts, replace desiccant to prevent moisture buildup and remove accumulated ice or snow.

“It’s not too often we see something like this being built, especially in the Haines area,” said Sharon Sullivan, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Juneau. “We’re excited when this happens. This will help us get the data we need, especially in the winter when we look at high winds and wind chill.”

The station will share data with the NWS. The NWS already has data-sharing relationships with multiple weather stations it doesn’t own, as well as with Environment Canada, the Canadian weather service.

Solar panels will power the station, and it will transmit data via satellite about every half hour. The station will measure snow depth, precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and solar radiation. Solar radiation is the brightness of the sky, and it’s an important measurement for recreation purposes. It can help predict snowpack warmth that can increase avalanche risk, Stevens said. “You can’t ski if you can’t tell the difference between the snow surface and the clouds.”


The preferred site for the station is close to the highway by Three Guardsmen Lake near Glave Peak because it’s a pocket that’s protected from wind and snowfall, Stevens said.

“Every spot will have its own microclimate. Ours aren’t any worse than other locations but we’ll still have it,” he said. Stevens said microclimate trends can be learned over time with the accumulation of data, so it’s possible to account for those trends when generalizing information.

The highway is about 3,000 feet in elevation, but nearby Glave Peak is about twice that. Higher elevations often have more wind and deeper snow because of less tree cover, Sullivan said. Those headed to the peak should adjust their predictions accordingly.

“That area definitely gives us information on what’s going on and an idea of what snowfall we can see in the mountains,” said Ben Anderson, general manager of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) , a heli-ski company in Haines.

Anderson explained the company calculates avalanche risk by piecing together temperature, wind-shift, cloud cover, precipitation and snowpack data from multiple sources including the Federal Aviation Administration, weather forecasting websites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’re always betting on the weather. When it’s bad weather we can’t do our jobs. The more weather data the better.”


Stevens said the station should be installed by September, before the ground freezes.

Data from the weather station and other avalanche monitoring data can be viewed at alaskasnow.org, the Alaska Avalanche Information Center’s website.

 
 

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