Avalanches are masses of snow, ice, and rocks that fall rapidly down a mountainside. An avalanche is a rapid flow of snow down a hill or mountainside. Although avalanches can occur on any slope given the right conditions, certain times of the year and certain locations are naturally more dangerous than others. Wintertime, particularly from December to April, is when most avalanches tend to happen. However, avalanche fatalities have been recorded for every month of the year.

Anatomy of an avalanche

All that is necessary for an avalanche is a mass of snow and a slope for it to slide down. For example, have you ever noticed the layer of snow on a car windshield after a snowfall? While the temperature remains low, the snow sticks to the surface and does not slide off. After the temperature increases, however, the snow will sluff, or slide, down the front of the windshield, often in small slabs. This is an avalanche on a miniature scale. An avalanche has three main parts.

The starting zone: is the most volatile area of a slope, where unstable snow can fracture from the surrounding snow cover and begin to slide. Typical starting zones are higher up on slopes. However, given the right conditions, snow can fracture at any point on the slope.

The avalanche track: is the path or channel that an avalanche follows as it goes downhill. Large vertical swaths of trees missing from a slope or chute-like clearings are often signs that large avalanches run frequently there, creating their own tracks. There may also be a large pile-up of snow and debris at the bottom of the slope, indicating that avalanches have run.

The run out zone: is where the snow and debris finally come to a stop. Similarly, this is also the location of the deposition zone, where the snow and debris pile the hill.

Snow Avalanche in Afghanistan

The Situation

Heavy snowfall and a large number of avalanche were reported in different parts of Afghanistan between 4-7 February . Around 22 out of 34 provinces reported to have been affected. Provinces with casualties and significant damage to homes and livelihoods included Badakhshan, Balkh,Faryab, Samangan, Saripul, Herat, Badghis, Nangarhar, Paktia, Khost, Helmand, Kandahar, Bamiyan, Daykundi, Parwan and Kapisa. In one incident of avalanche in Afsay Village, Barg-e-Matal District (Nuristan Province) claimed at least 57 lives with at least 33 injure.

It is estimated that up to three meters of snow have fallen in different parts of Afghanistan and 17 avalanches were reported within a span of three nights. Initial assessments indicate that limited food supplies in local markets have caused an inflation in prices. Worse yet, the continued wind storms and frozen ground have made it a challenge for affected communities to erect tents and build temporary shelters.


  • Constantly evaluate avalanche conditions.
  • Areas with fresh accumulations of wind-driven snow are particularly vulnerable.
  • Extremely steep slopes particularly in shaded areas near a ridge are also risky.
  • Always travel with a partner.
  • Descend risky areas one by one and watch for avalanche signs.

What to Do :

  • If caught in a slide, try to get off the slab or grab a tree.
  • If swept away, swim to the surface.
  • Carry a small shovel and a long probe to locate a buried partner.
  • Wear an avalanche rescue beacon that signals your location.
  • Learn how to use the rescue equipment.
  • Practice using the rescue equipment.
  • Evaluate the avalanche hazard before attempting a rescue.