Artificial system

Is artificial intelligence the future of avalanche forecasting?

Avalanche debris field; pc:bridgeportavalanchecenter

Considered by some observers more of an art than a science, avalanche forecasting involves a unique combination of observation, analysis and human interpretation. Maybe even a bit of luck. Even the best forecasters only achieve around 75% accuracy in their forecasts. After all, they are also human and susceptible to biases and imperfections, just like the rest of us. One of the biggest challenges in creating an accurate forecast is that the avalanche danger cannot be measured precisely and is therefore a matter of expertise (opinion).

Avalanche warning service
Sample avalanche report, pc:theadventuremedic

That was until last season, when the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF), part of the Swiss National Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, tested successfully a one-of-a-kind artificial intelligence computer program. to help him in his avalanche forecasts. A world leader in the field of avalanche forecasting since taking over from the Swiss army in 1945, the SLF continues to drive the development of avalanche forecasting.

SLF observers start their day before 6 a.m. every morning from November to April, when they collect measurements transmitted to them by more than 120 different remote automatic weather stations located in the Swiss Alps. Observers then analyze the data, make their interpretations and combine their opinions into a single avalanche service warning issued at 5 p.m. each day.

The SLF researchers used this new AI model as a “second opinion” against their human predictions. Many times the AI ​​model coincided, sometimes, however, the AI ​​model deviated from the human prediction. This “gap” between the forecasts is then carefully examined to find the reasons for the discrepancy.

avalanche warning
Avalanche Terrain, pc:theadventuremedic

SLF’s new AI model trained on their more than two decades weather information and forecasts before the start of last season. SLF researchers now estimate that the AI ​​program is about 75% accurate in its model predictions. SLF forecaster Frank Techel describes the AI ​​program saying,

The computer analyzes the data in a different way than we do. That’s why he sometimes comes to a slightly different conclusion. Computer forecasting is very useful, especially for drawing exact boundaries between regions in which different levels of danger prevail..”

This current AI model however has some limitations in that it was only suitable for dry snow avalanches. For next season, SLF plans to introduce a new AI system capable of modeling wet snow avalanches as well as snowpack stability.

Even with these amazing advances in AI-based avalanche forecasting, the SLF still believes in the value of human observation. Comments by SLF Senior Forecaster Gian Darms,

Not only do humans observe, but they also interpret the data. For example, an observer can see if cracks in the snow appear… we can anticipate things. The local dimension of the avalanche danger assessment is a synthesis of information. This is something that a machine simply cannot do.

And I think that’s probably good advice when it comes to your own assessment. Nothing should supplant your direct observation of signs of snowpack instability.

For those interested in learning more about avalanche safety or wanting to access your local forecast, here is a list of all US avalanche centers (credit: avalanche.org). Stay safe and enjoy!

United States Forest Service Avalanche Centers

Bridgeport Avalanche Center
Box 1000
Bridgeport, CA 93517

Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center
Box 424
Teton Village, WY 83025

Chugach NF Avalanche Center
Box 129
Girdwood, AK 99587

Flathead Avalanche Center
10 Hungry Horse Drive
Hungry Horse, MT 59919

Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center
Box 130
Bozeman, Montana 59771

Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center
Box 405
Ponderay, ID 83852

National Avalanche Center
Box 130
Bozeman, Montana 59771

Northwest Avalanche Center
7600 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115

Mount Shasta Avalanche Center
204 Alma Street West
Mount Shasta, California 96067

Mount Washington Avalanche Center
300 Glen Road
Gorham, NH 03581

Payette Avalanche Center
Box 2177
McCall, ID 83638

Sawtooth avalanche center
206 Sun Valley Road
Sun Valley, ID 83353

Sierra Avalanche Center
10811 Stockrest Springs Road
Truckee, California 96161

Utah Avalanche Center
2242 North West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84116

West Central Montana Avalanche Center
Box 72
Missoula, Montana 59806

State Avalanche Centers

Colorado Avalanche Information Center
325 Broadway WS1
Boulder, CO 80305

Local non-profit centers

Alaska Avalanche Information Center

Central Oregon Avalanche Center
2701 NW Scandia Loop
Bend, Oregon 97701

Crested Butte Avalanche Center
Box 2351
Butte a crest, CO 81224

Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center
Box 1675
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center
5629 Byrwood Circle
Palmer, AK 99645

Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center
Box 174
Flagstaff, AZ 86002-0174

Wallowa Avalanche Center
Box 324
Joseph, OR 97846