Computer to forecast avalanches

Swiss scientists have developed a new computer model to help them predict the risk of avalanches.

This content was published on March 28, 2000 - 20:56

Swiss scientists have developed a new computer model to help them predict the risk of avalanches.

They have created a database of snow and weather information, and avalanche forecasts for the past ten years. Using the data, they can calculate the ten closest models to any new situation and predict what is likely to happen.

Computer scientist, Bernard Brabec, who works for the Snow and Avalanche Research Institute in Davos, developed the model. "There is a big need to improve avalanche forecasting," he says, "and by so doing, save the lives of off-piste skiers, snowboarders or those doing Alpine tours.2

The new computer model automatically calculates both the immediate avalanche risk and that for the following day. Brabec emphasises that it is a support system and does not replace human forecasters.

And he admits the new system has limitations: "We ran the system for last winter's very extreme conditions and it could not actually cover that situation so if it is a totally new situation or very extreme, the system will not work."

Traditionally, avalanche forecasters gather and analyse huge amount of snow and weather data from observers and automated stations. They also receive feedback from off-piste skiers in the form of a questionnaire and then try to draw accurate conclusions from this material.

swissinfo with agencies

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