In the winter of 1992 Colorado Deptartment of Transportation plow diver Eddie Imel was killed by an avalanche while driving U.S. Hwy. 550 above the Uncompahgre Gorge near Ouray. Following that event, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) was created. Now, beginning no later than Nov. 1 and continuing through May 1 (weather dependent), forecasters from the Silverton office rise before dawn, brew coffee and observe data from weather stations and weather models. The Silverton forecasters provide snow stability and weather data to their base office in Boulder, which in turn feeds the avalanche hotline. Perhaps more importantly, the CAIC advises the Colorado Department of Transportation on snow stability and where they think avalanche control work needs to happen and where roads need to be closed. All told, the CAIC provides forecasts for roughly 200 avalanche paths threatening three highways in the region, and Red Mountain Pass is regarded as the hot zone. On a daily basis, CAIC forecasters are in the field observing weather stations and digging holes in the snow and recording meticulous observations. The ultimate goal is clear keep the roads safe. For information on mountain weather, snow and avalanche conditions call the CAIC hotline at 247-8187 or visit

Ann Mellick takes a reading from a water-equivalency tube. Every morning following a new snow event, forecasters drive to site-specific locations to measure the amount of new snow that has fallen. At 5:30 a.m. Mark Rikkers and Ann Mellick discuss data they collected the previous day before sending a report to the Colorado Department of Transportation and the CAIC base office in Boulder. With this information, the Boulder office is able to give a daily report via the avalanche hotline. Forecaster Mark Rikkers looks for answers in the current weather conditions. Forecaster Susan Hale isolates a block of snow in a Ruschblock test, which estimates the strength of the snowpack. She concluded that the pack was scary at best. A thermometer and a collapsible measuring stick are used to measure overall snow depth and the temperature of the snow per every 10 centimeters. These observations are another component of the relative stability of the snow pack.


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