Chaos in the Alps: Red avalanche alerts as several meters of snow cause lockdowns

Chaos in the Alps: Red avalanche alerts as several meters of snow cause lockdowns

At least 6 people have been killed over the past couple of days after huge amounts of heavy wet snow covered the Alps, causing numerous avalanches. Heavy snow continues falling across the mountain region, particularly in many western and southwestern parts where some areas are in lockdown after 1.5 to 2 m (4.9 - 6.5 feet) of fresh snow fell in just 48 hours on top of already huge amounts. The region will see unsettled conditions through the rest of the week, followed by more heavy snow next week.

According to WeatherToSki, the heavy snow in Italy is affecting areas like Alagna, Gressoney, Champoluc, Cervinia, Pila, Prali and Sestriere. In France, the worst affected areas are in the Queyras, the Haute Maurienne (e.g. Val Cenis and Bonneval sur Arc) and the Haute Tarentaise (e.g. Val d’Isère and Tignes). In Switzerland, there is disruptive snow in the south of the Valais (e.g. Zermatt and Saas-Fee).

All the above areas are on the Red alert for avalanches, the maximum, and have problems this morning with road closures, some pre-emptive but some due to actual slides in populated areas. In some cases, especially in the Monte Rosa region and the Swiss Valais, people have also had to be evacuated from their homes.

Regions above 2 300 m (7 545 feet), like Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Rosière, Chamonix in French Alps, received first massive amounts of snow (1.5 - 2 m / 4.9 - 6.5 feet) from January 2 - 4. And the snow continued, heavy to very heavy in places, through today.

Overnight Tuesday, January 9, an additional 1.5 to 2 m of new snow fell on top of already huge amounts received over the past couple of days, especially in western and southwestern parts of the Alps. Generally speaking, the heaviest snow fell close to the border areas between France, Italy and south-west Switzerland. 

Schools and nurseries have been closed and roads cut off in the French Alps after the Savoie department was placed on red alert for avalanches on Monday, January 8, TheLocal.fr reports.

Near the French-Italian border, in Haute Maurienne and Haute Tarentaise snow levels reached up to 80 - 90 cm (2.6 - 2.9 feet) in just 24 hours with the "maximum intensity" of the snowfall hitting on Monday evening, the paper said. 

The ski resorts of Tignes and Val d'Isere were in lockdown with the pistes closed until further notice.

Preventative releases of avalanches will be set in motion as soon as the helicopters can take off, local authorities have said. 

French forecasters have described the snowfall as the kind that is only seen "once in every 30 years," with up to 1.8m (6 feet) of snow falling in 36 hours in parts of the Savoie area.

According to Swiss media reports, the unusually heavy snowfall trapped around 13 000 tourists at Zermatt resorts, one of the country's most popular ski stations. The snow blocked all roads and the train station leading to the resort, which was also hit by some power outages.

More than 80 cm (31.5 inches) of snow was recorded at the resort on Monday, and another meter (39.3 inches) was expected by the end of Tuesday.

According to forecast models, the region will see unsettled weather through the rest of the week, and a new phase of very heavy snow from January 15.

Featured image: Snow in Tignes, France on January 9, 2018. Credit: Julien Palard (via Twitter)

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