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What Causes an Avalanche?

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Wonder of the Day #769

What Causes an Avalanche?

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SOCIAL STUDIES — Geography

Have You Ever Wondered…

  • What causes an avalanche?
  • Can avalanches be predicted or prevented?
  • Is it possible to dig out of an avalanche?

Tags:

See All Tags

  • avalanche ,
  • earth ,
  • geography ,
  • mountains ,
  • nature ,
  • ski ,
  • slope ,
  • snow

 

Listen

If you’re like most kids, you probably love snow . Not only does it occasionally get you out of school , but it’s also fun to play with. Who doesn’t love to sled and build snowmen?

Snow can also be dangerous, too. You’ve probably heard your parents talk about how difficult it can be to drive in snow . Automobile accidents aren’t the only dangers created by snow, though.

If you’re ever skiing in the mountains, you’ll want to be aware of the possibility of avalanches. An avalanche is a sudden flow of snow down a slope , such as a mountainside . The amount of snow in an avalanche will vary based upon many factors, but it can be such a huge amount as to bury the terrain at the bottom of the slope in dozens of feet of snow.

Avalanches can be caused by many different things. Some of them are natural . For example, new snow or rain can cause accumulated snow suddenly to dislodge and cascade down the side of a mountain. Earthquakes and the natural movements of animals have also been known to cause avalanches.

Artificial triggers can also cause avalanches. For example, snowmobiles, skiers, gunshots and explosives have all been known to cause avalanches.

Avalanches usually occur during the winter and spring, when snowfall is greatest. In addition to being dangerous to any living beings in their path, avalanches have destroyed forests, roads, railroads and even entire towns.

Although avalanches occur suddenly, warning signs exist that allow experts to predict — and often prevent — them from occurring. When over a foot of fresh snow falls, experts know to be on the lookout for avalanches. Explosives can be used in places with massive snow buildups to trigger smaller avalanches that don’t pose a danger to persons or property.

When deadly avalanches do occur, the moving snow can quickly reach in excess of 80 miles per hour. Skiers caught in such avalanches can be buried under dozens of feet of snow. While it’s possible to dig out of such avalanches, not everyone is able to escape.

If you get tossed about by an avalanche and find yourself buried under many feet of snow, you might not have a true sense of which way is up and which way is down. Some avalanche victims have unknowingly tried to dig their way out, only to find that they were upside down and digging themselves farther under the snow rather than to the top!

Experts suggest that people caught in an avalanche try to “swim” to the top of the moving snow to stay as close as possible to the surface. Once the avalanche stops, do your best to dig around you to create a space for air, so you can breathe more easily. Then do your best to figure out which way is up and dig in that direction to reach the surface and signal rescuers.



Wonder Contributors

We’d like to thank:

Lola
for contributing questions about today’s Wonder topic!

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What are you wondering?

Wonder Words (16)

  • avalanche
  • predicted
  • prevented
  • occasionally
  • automobile
  • accident
  • slope
  • mountainside
  • terrain
  • possibility
  • natural
  • artificial
  • trigger
  • accumulated
  • dislodge
  • cascade

Take the Wonder Word Challenge

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day might go by in a flash if it’s read aloud by one of these people!

Try It Out

Would you believe that experts have caught avalanches live on film? Some have even captured video from within an avalanche! How does that work?

Check out NOVA’s Capturing it on Film online. You’ll be walked through the process of how filmmakers managed to film an avalanche from inside the avalanche. You’ll also be able to see several other videos of avalanches in action.

Did you get it?

Test your knowledge

Wonder Contributors

We’d like to thank:

Lola
for contributing questions about today’s Wonder topic!

Keep WONDERing with us!

What are you wondering?

Wonder Words

  • avalanche
  • predicted
  • prevented
  • occasionally
  • automobile
  • accident
  • slope
  • mountainside
  • terrain
  • possibility
  • natural
  • artificial
  • trigger
  • accumulated
  • dislodge
  • cascade

Take the Wonder Word Challenge

Join the Discussion


Hey me

Who wrote this article

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for asking! Wonderopolis wrote this article 😀.

If you are needing to cite this Wonder, we do ask that Wonderopolis be listed as the author.  Also, since we do not list he publish date for our Wonders of the Day, you may put the date you accessed this page for information.  The following is how you would cite this page: 

“What Causes an Avalanche?” Wonderopolis.   https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-causes-an-avalanche .  Accessed 27 Oct. 2018. 

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Hannah

Does it even say how avalanches occur? No so you need to write that

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Hannah! Great question! We found some more information that should help you learn more about how avalanches occur.  Check out this article from  National Snow & Ice Data Center to learn more!

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Alana

this is one AWSOME wonder. but it does remind me of my uncle. he was snowbording and got caught in an avalance. he died an hour later. they did’nt find him until it was too late.

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Wonderopolis

We’re so sorry to hear that, Alana. Your family is in our thoughts.

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Kamyah

Can we predict avalanches?
Also,how often do avalanches happen?

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Kamyah! We hope this Wonder helps you find the answer!!

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Mia

Thank you Wonderopolis! Now I know what causes an avalanche so now I can be more careful. This website is very helpful and I am glad someone (I am not sure who) created this. Although this was helpful, I also have many other Wonders.

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im mia and i hate this website

i hate this website u should shut it down

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Wonderopolis

We’re sorry to hear that, mia! 

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Quincy

this is awesome!

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Wonderopolis

Thanks, Quincy!! 😃

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Wonderopolis

You’re very welcome, Mia!  Glad you learned something new with us!  You have more Wonders??  You’re in luck: we have over 1,900 other Wonders for you to check out!

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ugk

umm

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Ugk!  What did you think of this Wonder?  We are glad you stopped by to check it out!

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Madds

How does ski slopes control the avalanches??I have been in a
Big mountain before but I don’t know how the control the avalanches?

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Wonderopolis

That’s a good question, Madds! Maybe head on a little Wonder Journey of your own and see if you can find the answer to that one. Let us know what you come up with, Wonder Friend!

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Madds

Hey,it’s me again!Just wanted to say this was really helpful(again)and I will be using this website for any other research!I will let you know as soon as possible if I get a 4+!Thanks so much Wonder!

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Wonderopolis

Hi again, Madds! We are so glad to be helping you Wonder! Best of luck on the project and visit us again soon!

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britteny

hi

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Wonderopolis

Howdy, britteny! We’re glad you visited Wonderopolis!

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8===========D

What is snow made from

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ace

water

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Wonderopolis

Hi, ace! Water is part of it! Keep researching to learn the process of how snow is created in weather! 🙂

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Natasha

rain

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for sharing that information, Natasha! We appreciate you joining the discussion! 🙂

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Wonder Friend! Thanks for your question! Check out Wonder #97: What’s the Difference Between Snow, Sleet, and Freezing Rain? You can also keep researching at the library and online! Have fun WONDERing! 🙂

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Pene

This website is trash it doesn’t help 🙁

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Lily

That’s rude!!!!!!!!!!! Pene

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for joining the discussion, Lily! We realize not everyone likes Wonderopolis, and that’s OK. We’re glad you are here WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend! 🙂

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for sharing your opinion, Pene. We’re sorry you’re not having fun exploring Wonderopolis. We encourage you to check out the many other Wonders on the site. We’re sure you will find one you like better! 🙂

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Cecilia

Whom made snow.

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for sharing your question, Cecilia! Snow is a natural weather occurrence. We encourage you to use the search feature to find more Wonders about snow! You can also keep researching at your library and online! 🙂

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Fartun

what causes avalanche to happen

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Wonder Friend! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us! We hope you learn something new about avalanches from reading this Wonder! 🙂

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Obelia

Thanks for the help!

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Wonderopolis

Hi, Obelia! We’re glad this Wonder was helpful. We appreciate you visiting Wonderopolis. Always keep WONDERing! 🙂

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joe

what causes an avalanche

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Wonderopolis

Hi, joe! We hope you enjoyed this Wonder! There are many things that can trigger an avalanche. The Wonder mentions some of those ways. We hope you keep reading to learn all about it! 🙂

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Hi

Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

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Wonderopolis

Welcome, WONDER friend! We’re sorry you didn’t like this WONDER. There are more than 1,450 WONDERS to explore on Wonderopolis. We hope you’ll keep exploring the many other WONDERS! 🙂

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Jake

I was at A-Basin in Colorado and they were blowing dynamite to destroy avalanches.

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Wonderopolis

Jake, wow, what an amazing experience! We are so glad you told us all about what happens in Colorado! Good thing we learned all about how avalanches are formed, and how they are prevented, too! It sounds like you’ve been traveling a lot lately, Jake! What a way to Wonder! 🙂

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Isaac

Where was the biggest avalanche ever?

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Wonderopolis

That’s a great question, Wonder Friend Isaac! We’re happy you’re thinking about avalanches and how they are formed! Scientists may have different answers about the biggest avalanche ever, but there have been quite a few big ones in history! Sometimes it’s measured on the amount of snow, sometimes it depends on the length of time, and sometimes it is determined by the number of people involved. Keep up the great WONDERing! 🙂

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George Heyward

Obviously this is for the person buried in an avalanche and needs to dig their way out.

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Wonderopolis

Hey there, Wonder Friend George! Thanks for sharing your awesome tip! We think it’s cool that gravity can help someone when an avalanche occurs. We’re so proud of you! Thanks for visiting us! 🙂

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George Heyward

I think the simplest way to deterime your up or down position in the snow would be to melt a little snow in your hand and just watch which direction it drips.

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Tyler J

One of the most common things you will hear is
“AVALANCHE!!!!!”
*RRRROOOOAAOAOAOAHHHHHH (the avalanche)
he he he

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Wonderopolis

If avalanches could talk, we bet that’s exactly what we’d hear! Nice work, Tyler J! We hope you never encounter an avalanche in your lifetime! 🙂

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achla

How do ski areas pervent that from happening?
I love playing in the snow but have also realized can be very scary.

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Wonderopolis

Hi there, Wonder Friend Achia! While you cannot always prevent avalanches from happening, it’s important to pay attention to the warning signs of an avalanche. Take a look at the excerpt below for more information:

“Avalanches usually occur during the winter and spring, when snowfall is greatest. In addition to being dangerous to any living beings in their path, avalanches have destroyed forests, roads, railroads and even entire towns.
Although avalanches occur suddenly, warning signs exist that allow experts to predict — and often prevent — them from occurring. When over a foot of fresh snow falls, experts know to be on the lookout for avalanches. Explosives can be used in places with massive snow buildups to trigger smaller avalanches that don’t pose a danger to persons or property.” 🙂

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Janhavi

Never knew an avalanche would be so scary.

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Wonderopolis

We’re so glad you learned something new, Janhavi! Avalanches can be scary, but that’s why it’s important to be prepared and aware of your surroundings. And always travel with a buddy! Thanks for sharing your comment, Wonder Friend! 🙂

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Chloe

This worked great for a project. There is a lot of good information!

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Wonderopolis

WOHOO, we’re so excited that you had fun creating an avalanche of your own! Great work, Chloe! 🙂

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kadija

I liked that video. Why do avalanches happen?

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Wonderopolis

WOHOO, we’re glad you liked the Wonder video, Kadija! We Wonder if you read the Wonder of the Day® to find out how avalanches start and end! There’s lots of fun WONDERing to do! 🙂

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autumn

I cannot belive an avalanche can cause that much damage!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :0

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Wonderopolis

It’s important to be safe, especially when a storm is brewing! Thanks for pointing that out, Autumn! Have a super day! 🙂

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Danny from Mrs.Ski’s AM class

I hate snow well I don’t hate hate snow I just don’t like it because I LOVE school. I have watched videos online about when people get out of the snow by swimming to the surface.

I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about people who do track or about lighting bolts and how they are formed.

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Wonderopolis

WOW, we bet you like to stay nice and warm, Danny! Snow can be fun, but sometimes it makes you want to enjoy the warmth of the indoors! We can’t wait to find out what tomorrow’s Wonder will be! 🙂

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alexandria

I wonder what makes you cry.

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Wonderopolis

What a great Wonder, Alexandria! We are glad you shared it with us! 🙂

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Josephine

Wow, I had no idea how powerful an avalanche could be! Thanks Wonderopolis fo helping me learn something new today.

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Wonderopolis

We’re glad you learned something new today, Josephine! We are happy to know that you visited Wonderopolis today– we love learning with new friends! 🙂

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blakeleigh

I liked today’s wonder it would snow almost every day were we lived. 🙁

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Wonderopolis

WOW, Blakeleigh! We bet it was quite an experience to be surrounded by snow so often! 🙂

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Mark

Yay, first comment! I remember reading about dogs being able to track people stuck in a avalanche.

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Wonderopolis

WOW, what an interesting fact to add to today’s Wonder, Mark! Thanks for sharing that information with us, Wonder Friend! 🙂

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Megan

I loved the wonder of the day today! It was sooo cool! But the sad thing is my dad got caught in an avalanche. He died. BE SAFE KIDS.

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Wonderopolis

We’re so very sorry to hear about your father, Megan. We are thinking of you– thanks for reminding us to be safe, too! 🙂

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cailyn

Todays wonder is FUNNY!!!!!

I have some wonders for tomorrow:

-a celebrity reading

-a lightening book

Your friend from MN

Cilyn

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Wonderopolis

WOW, thanks for sharing your ideas for tomorrow’s Wonder, Cailyn! We hope you’re having a great day in Minnesota! 🙂

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Bryleigh

I am not a big fan of snow. My family used to live in the mountains of Colorado, and during winter time it snowed every day! 🙁 I don’t like the cold. I don’t like avalanches, either. Thanks!
=Bryleigh=
🙂 😀 😛 😉 🙁

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lola

same

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Wonderopolis

Thanks for telling us how you feel about the snow, Bryleigh! We bet it can get very cold in Colorado, especially in the winter! We’re glad you’re visiting us today at Wonderopolis though! Stay warm! 🙂

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#769

What Causes an Avalanche?

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terrain

artificial

cascade

predicted

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accumulated

mountainside

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a stretch of land, especially with regard to its physical features
contrived by art rather than nature
rush down in big quantities
that which has been foretold
an act that sets in motion some course of events
gather together or acquire an increasing number or quantity of
the side or slope of a mountain
remove or force out from a position
now and then or here and there
a future prospect or potential

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