Avalanche Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Many people think of a snow capped mountain as a peaceful scene, but things can get ugly pretty quick if an avalanche comes! Learn about what causes avalanches, the effects they have on the world around them and some avalanche safety tips.

What Is an Avalanche?

There is nothing calm and peaceful about the snow in this avalanche!

An avalanche can reach speeds of 80 miles per hour and kills more than 150 people every year.

Avalanches occur when a big mass of ice and snow comes off of the side of a mountain and rushes down the mountain's side. Basically, when there is an excess of snow on a mountain, the snow comes tumbling down. Think about it like playing a game where you stack blocks on top of one another. The stack gets higher and higher, but eventually, it falls down. While some avalanches are massive and have the ability to destroy buildings, other avalanches are small with only minimal amount of snow and ice. This is called sluff.

Causes of Avalanches

This scientist is looking for factors that might cause an avalanche on the mountain!

While avalanches can occur at any time of the year, there are certain factors that might increase of an avalanche taking place. For example, avalanches are most likely to happen within 24 hours of a snowstorm that drops 12 or more inches of snow. Also, layers of wind-driven snow run a high risk of causing an avalanche. Other variables that might cause an avalanche include the mountain's slope (how steep the mountain is), wind, terrain and general conditions of the snow.

Effects of Avalanches

If you get trapped in an avalanche, it is basically like getting buried alive. Since the snow is so heavy, avalanche victims are rarely able to dig themselves out. Once the avalanche stops, the snow settles like concrete and makes it nearly impossible to move. Victims of avalanches are also at risk for frostbite, a potentially deadly disease that occurs when the human body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for an extended period of time. Victims are much more likely to survive an avalanche if they are rescued within 15 minutes, but after 45 minutes the survival rate drops drastically. Besides being dangerous to humans, avalanches can also cause flash floods and changes in weather patterns.

Avalanche Safety

This skier should be good to go!

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