Avalanches (Disaster Management)

Avalanches (Disaster Management)

This article deals with ‘Avalanches (Disaster Management).’ This is part of our series on ‘Disaster Management’, an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


  • Avalanches refer to the sudden and rapid sliding down of snow or ice on a mountain slope.
Avalanches  (Disaster Management)
  • Currently, avalanches have gained substantial importance, particularly in the regions of Leh and Siachen. These areas have witnessed a significant increase in the frequency of avalanches, leading to tragic and frequent loss of lives. The extreme conditions in these regions and the unique topography and weather patterns make them prone to avalanches. As a result, the lives of Army personnel on duty are continuously at risk.

Some Examples

2022 Uttarakhand Avalanche killed 10
2017 20 army personnel killed in avalanches which hit Kashmir’s Sonamarg and Gurez sector
2016 Avalanche in Siachin killing Army Personnel (including Lance Naik Hanumanthappa)

Factors causing Avalanche

Avalanches may occur due to a combination of various factors, with each contributing to the likelihood and severity of such events. Some of the key factors include:

  1. Global Warming: Global Warming is a significant factor influencing the occurrence of avalanches, particularly in recent times. Rising temperatures lead to changes in glacier characteristics, such as increased water content and altered stability, making slopes more prone to avalanches. 
  2. Slope of the Mountain: The steepness and angle of the mountain slope play a crucial role in determining avalanche susceptibility. Steeper slopes generally have a greater potential for avalanches.
  3. High Wind Velocity: Strong winds can significantly impact snow distribution and stability, contributing to avalanche formation.
  4. Vibrations Caused by Gunfire: Vibrations generated by gunfire or explosive activities can trigger avalanches. 
  5. Strength of resisting forces: When the balance between the gravitational force of snow cover and the resisting force of the slope, and the anchoring effect of shrubs are lost, avalanches are caused. 

Aftermath of Avalanche

The aftermath of an avalanche can be devastating, leaving behind a trail of destruction and impacting various aspects of life in the affected areas.

  1. Loss of Life: Avalanches can cause significant loss of life. Tragically, they can hit or bury human settlements. For instance, the Kashmir avalanche of 2005 claimed the lives of approximately 250 individuals. 
  2. Disruption of Transportation: Avalanches can block or destroy roads, making them impassable.
  3. Stranded Tourists: In popular tourist destinations located in mountainous regions, avalanches can pose a significant risk to visitors. When a major avalanche occurs, it can strand tourists in remote areas with limited facilities.
  4. Blockage of Small Rivers: Avalanches can also block small rivers or creeks due to the sheer volume of snow and debris. This blockage can lead to water accumulation upstream, creating the potential for downstream flooding. 

These consequences highlight the need for preparedness.

Mitigation Measures for Avalanches

Various mitigation measures can be implemented to minimize the risks associated with avalanches. 

Structural Measures

  • Planting (Avalanche Prevention Forest): Creating an Avalanche Prevention Forest involves strategically planting trees around settlements or vulnerable areas to serve as a protective cover. 
  • Avalanche Control Fence: Avalanche control fences are physical barriers designed to intercept and control the movement of snow during an avalanche event.
Mitigation Measures for Avalanches

Non-structural Measures

  • Removing snow deposits on slopes by blasting: Controlled blasting technique to trigger small avalanches and remove accumulated snow deposits from slopes before they become unstable.
  • Early Warning System: This system utilizes various monitoring technologies such as snowpack sensors, weather stations, and remote sensing to detect signs of potential avalanche conditions. India has still not installed Early Warning System, although Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) is working on this.
  • While traveling in snow mountains, Wear an avalanche rescue beacon that signals your location.

By combining both structural and non-structural measures, communities and authorities can significantly reduce the risks associated with avalanches. 

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