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High avalanche danger in Sierra: 'Large enough to bury a person'

SF Gate logo SF Gate 1/17/2019 Mike Moffitt

a sign on the side of a snow covered mountain: The Sierra Avalanche Center issued a high avalanche danger warning for the central Sierra on Wednesday.

The Sierra Avalanche Center issued a high avalanche danger warning for the central Sierra on Wednesday.

© Provided by Hearst Newspapers

Snow pack watchers issued a high avalanche danger warning for the greater Lake Tahoe area Wednesday as the Sierra braced for the winter's biggest storm to date.

Andy Anderson, a forecaster for the Sierra Avalanche Center, warned skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers to stay off backcountry slopes, as wind slab and storm slab avalanches — "large enough to bury a person" — will be very likely to occur during the blizzard.

Even deep slab avalanches ranging in size from very large to "historic" were likely, according to Anderson's report on the center's website.

"The persistent weak (snow) layer now exists more than 3 to 5 ft below the snow surface," Anderson's advisory stated. "Smaller triggers in the right places like a person on a trigger point or larger triggers like cornice collapses or other avalanches could cause a deep slab to release. If a deep slab avalanche does occur, it would likely be large, destructive, and unsurvivable."

Forecasts have called for up to five feet of new snow above 7,000 feet in parts of the Tahoe area by Thursday afternoon. The snowfall rate was expected to exceed 2 inches per hour.

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While avalanche danger is normally greatest above the tree line, the center said conditions at and below the tree line would also hazardous. If you must be outside, the safest course is to stick to lower-angle terrain without an overhead hazard.

The avalanche forecast covers the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains between Yuba Pass on the north and Ebbetts Pass on the south.

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Read Mike Moffitt's latest stories and send him news tips at mmoffitt@sfchronicle.com

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