Transcript for Mountain Skywater, segment 10 of 12


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The warm touch of summer pauses but briefly on the lofty mountain slopes. All too soon the nights grow chill, and blazing colors announce the season's change. Most of the ecologists will leave the San Juans, but many other men and women will remain for they make their homes near this lofty range. For the residents, a mountain winter is an exhilarating experience.

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A small mountain town, Silverton, struggles each year with its burden of snow and cold. A highway that is a scenic delight in summer can be a nightmare during a winter storm. Or the highway can be blocked by an avalanche. Although the small mountain towns and much of the highway system are outside the target area, project officials are concerned about possible adverse effects of snowfall on man and on the environment. In particular, the scientists wish to know what conditions trigger avalanches. Avalanches most often occur down natural chutes, where wind-blown snow tends to collect. To avoid disaster, the dry powder snow avalanches are often deliberately started by shooting them with artillery. But it's difficult to guess correctly just when an avalanche is ready to run.

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Above a number of the worst avalanche courses, the nation's highest weather station was erected and put into operation. In future years, this remotely-operated station will collect data on wind speed and direction, temperature, snowfall, rime ice accumulation, and solar radiation. Data from this station and from other instruments and study plots will be carefully correlated with the occurrence of avalanches on the slopes below. With experience, project scientists hope to learn what weather conditions immediately precede an avalanche.