On Friday, residents in Crystal Bay were warned about a potential threat that hadn't been on the radar for about a year: an avalanche.
Washoe County issued a Stage 1 warning for neighborhoods in Crystal Bay and Third Creek Friday, March 2, as snow continued to fall in the Sierra Nevada. The next day, it was upgraded to a Stage 2 — meaning an avalanche could happen within four to six hours. Or, as Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston explained it, when a Stage 2 warning goes out it means leave now or prepare to hunker down and shelter in place.
Ultimately the warning expired without any slides in the danger paths on North Shore, although three human-triggered slides did occur in the Lake Tahoe backcountry in the span of four days, according to the Sierra Avalanche center. A separate slide also occurred at Squaw Valley Friday.
Though such warnings are a rarity in snow-sparse winters, Kenneston hopes the recent alerts will reinforce the importance of being prepared.
"We all just have to be aware of our surroundings and in those particular areas that's a real life hazard for them," he said.
Maintaining that awareness can be difficult when winters bounce back and forth from extremes. In low snow years, avalanche threats generally are not front of mind. In heavy snow years, such as 2016-17, there might be so many warnings that people become numb to them, opening the door to potentially disregarding serious warnings.
Kenneston recalled issuing at least 12 different warnings this past winter.
There have been close calls in recent decades, but Kenneston said there hasn't been a major slide that caused massive destruction in the Crystal Bay area. Still, it remains a possibility — one that Kenneston said keeps him up at night.
The growing popularity of backcountry recreation in winter adds to his concern.
Those living in potential avalanche paths need to be prepared, he stated. Having a kit with enough food and water to sustain an individual for 72 hours is critical, as is an emergency plan for the whole household.
"Public safety is a partnership and I like to remind our citizens that we really do have some of the best first responders … but it's a partnership and we really need citizens to also do their part to make a plan and assemble a kit and stay informed," Kenneston said. "And if we all work together then we're going to keep this region just as safe as we possibly can knowing that we can't change Mother Nature."
More information about preparedness can be found online at readywashoe.com.