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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 28 Mar 2018

Research article | 28 Mar 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Spatial consistency and bias in avalanche forecasts – a case study in the European Alps

Frank Techel1,2, Elisabetta Ceaglio3, Cécile Coléou4, Christoph Mitterer5, Samuel Morin6, Ross S. Purves2, and Francesca Rastelli7 Frank Techel et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Zurich Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Fondazione Montagna sicura, Ufficio neve e valanghe, Regione Autonoma Valle d'Aosta, Italy
  • 4Météo France, Direction des Opérations pour la Prévision, Cellule Montagne Nivologie, Grenoble, France
  • 5Lawinenwarndienst Tirol, Abteilung Zivil- und Katastrophenschutz, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 6Météo France – CNRS, CNRM UMR 3589, Centre d'Études de la Neige, Grenoble, France
  • 7Meteomont Carabinieri, Bormio, Italy

Abstract. In the European Alps, the public is provided with regional avalanche forecasts, issued by about 30 forecast centers throughout the winter, covering a spatially contiguous area. A key element in these forecasts is the communication of avalanche danger according to the five-level, ordinal European avalanche danger scale (EADS). Consistency in the application of the avalanche danger levels by the individual forecast centers is essential to ensure the greatest value for users, particularly those utilizing bulletins issued by different forecast centers. As the quality of avalanche forecasts is difficult to verify, due to the categorical nature of the EADS, we investigated forecast goodness by focusing on consistency and bias exploring real forecast danger levels from four winter seasons (477 forecast days). We qualitatively describe the operational constraints associated with the production and communication of the avalanche bulletins, and we propose a methodology to quantitatively explore spatial consistency and bias. We note that the forecast danger level agreed significantly less often when compared across national and forecast center boundaries (about 60%), as compared to within forecast center boundaries (about 90%). Furthermore, several forecast centers showed significant systematic differences towards using more frequently lower (or higher) danger levels than their neighbours. Discrepancies seemed to be greatest when analyzing the proportion of forecasts with danger level 4-High and 5-Very High. Operational constraints in the production and communication of avalanche forecasts, such as the size of warning regions, as well as differences in avalanche winter regimes, and variation in the ways the EADS is interpreted locally may contribute to inconsistencies. All these issues highlight the need to further harmonize the forecast production process and the way avalanche hazard is communicated to increase consistency, and hence value for the user.

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