Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

New weather station serving high elevation in Haines Pass

 

November 1, 2018

Volunteers from YAA and HAC at the base of Glave Peak, also known as Three Guardsmen, at the Sunday installation. From left to right: Erik Stevens, Kylie Campbell, Mike Smith. Kylie Campbell photo.

On Sunday, five volunteers from the Yukon Avalanche Association (YAA) and the Haines Avalanche Center (HAC) donned layers, loaded their trucks, and met in British Columbia to install a custom weather station.

The 30-foot tower at the base of Glave Peak, attached to a timber base and various instruments, accounts for the only forecasting station within about a 120-mile radius on the Haines Pass.

At 3,123 feet in elevation, the aim of this station is to increase avalanche forecasting capabilities and public safety in what meteorologists call a "transitional" mountain climate that is not otherwise represented in the pass.

Spearhead by the Yukon Avalanche Association, the station has been nine months in the making. It was made possible when the YAA was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Yukon Government Community Development Fund in June. The YAA sought the help of the HAC for site surveying, instrument planning, installation, and shared upkeep due to their closer proximity to the site.

HAC director and forecaster Erik Stevens said that those who live, work, play, or travel through the mountains are hugely affected by the weather, and will all benefit from this station.

"Until now, there's never been any way to know the conditions up there. There's no webcams, no weather stations, nothing," Stevens said. "Now anyone can log into our website(s) and check that ahead of time before they go up there." Data is real time, free, and can also be used by the U.S. and Canada's National Weather Services, he said.

In the past, Yukon and Haines have based their weather forecasts for the Haines Pass on model data validated by human observations from visitors. "Observations are always going to be after the fact, but this is important for real time, and will hugely increase accuracy of our avalanche forecasts," Stevens said.

Mike Smith, former president of the YAA, meteorologist, and technical lead on the project said that anecdotally, there have been a handful of avalanche involvements in the Haines Pass each year, but most go unreported.

In 2016, a skier died in an avalanche he triggered in White Pass, Yukon. Smith said that more and more, travelers come from down south to ski or snowboard without any knowledge of the risk. Smith says the best ways to mitigate an avalanche are by taking avalanche training courses and tuning into the weather station.

The station's automated system is run by solar panels and batteries that fuel a data logger and a mini computer, which detects weather information from various instruments measuring temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall, snow depth, and sunlight.

"We like to capture all the parameters that could influence an avalanche before it happens," Smith said.

The station represents a partnership between the U.S. and Canada in the interest of international public safety. Kylie Campbell, who worked as the interagency director on this project, was put in charge of government land-use negotiations back in June to allow land ownership in B.C.

"What made this really interesting was that it's a transboundary project that serves a diverse group of benefactors from Yukon, B.C., and Alaska," Campbell said. "At the end of the day what we're trying to do is build up a community collaboration."

Real time forecasts from Glave Peak can be found on both the YAA and HAC websites.

 
 

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