Six people have died in two different avalanche incidents in Austria on Sunday 8 March 2020. The first incident happened at about 9.30 am local time in the Dachstein area, on the border between Upper Austria and Styria, to the southeast of Salzberg, when five tourists, thought to have been from the Czech Republic, were hit by an avalanche while snowshoeing; all were dead by the time emergency services arrived. The second incident happened at about 11.30 am, on Mount Großglockner in the Carinthian Region, where a 33-year-old police officer was hit by an avalanche while on a training exercise, and died of his injuries before he could be removed from the Mountain.
Mount Großglockner, in summer 2013. Wikimedia Commons.
Avalanches are caused by the mechanical failure of snowpacks; essentially when the weight of the snow above a certain point exceeds the carrying capacity of the snow at that point to support its weight. This can happen for two reasons, because more snow falls upslope, causing the weight to rise, or because snow begins to melt downslope, causing the carrying capacity to fall. Avalanches may also be triggered by other events, such as Earthquakes or rockfalls. Contrary to what is often seen in films and on television, avalanches are not usually triggered by loud noises. Because snow forms layers, with each layer typically occurring due to a different snowfall, and having different physical properties, multiple avalanches can occur at the same spot, with the failure of a weaker layer losing to the loss of the snow above it, but other layers below left in place - to potentially fail later.
Diagrammatic representation of an avalanche, showing how layering of snow contributes to these events. Expedition Earth.
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