An inbound storm is causing concern for avalanche forecasters in the South Island.
Several areas including Aoraki/Mt Cook, Wanaka, Fiordland and Queenstown are expecting significant snowfall, up to three meters in elevated areas.
The rapidly deteriorating backcountry conditions are expected to be in place through the weekend.
Mountain Safety Council CEO Mike Daisley is urging backcountry users to use common sense when considering backcountry trips.
“This storm is going to make large areas of the South Island backcountry very dangerous to travel in.”
“This is a good time for folks to stay inside the ski area boundaries where the snow safety teams are actively managing the terrain.”
Mt Cook avalanche forecaster Trev Streat was expecting up to 3m of snow in the upper elevations of Mt Cook national park.
“This much snow will likely lead to large ‘storm slab’ avalanches which have the potential of running all the way to valley floor.”
“Trampers and hunters also need to be aware of what dangers exist above them.”
“Similar conditions are expected to be found in other areas along with main divide in areas such as Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park.”
Wanaka forecaster Simon Howells said the conditions are volatile, and he urged caution across the South Island.
“These avalanches could release without warning. The rain will dramatically change the snowpack, especially at lower elevations.”
“The message is simple this weekend – stay out of the backcountry.”
MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray explains that a frontal system is slowly moving up the country Saturday and through the weekend, bringing a prolonged period of heavy rain falling as snow above the freezing level. It is also bringing strong gusty winds.
“Primary concerns for the South Island is prolonged heavy rain which will fall as snow about the upper elevations at first but will lower as we head into Sunday and Monday, ” says Murray, “so large accumulations of fresh snow can be expected.”
Murray continued, “Added to lots of fresh snow, we are forecasting strong northwest winds gusting across much of the Island, inland high country in particular. And we have issued Severe Weather Warnings which include many of the National Parks.”
Backcountry users are advised to check the NZ Avalanche Advisory – avalanche.net.nz – for details about the forecast regions.
Safety In The Backcountry
1) Understand the avalanche forecast for the region you’ll be travelling in – This is what the NZ Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) website is all about!
2) Have the necessary avalanche rescue equipment.
3) Have the training and knowledge to avoid avalanche terrain.