Extreme avalanche cycles: Return levels and probability distributions depending on snow and meteorological conditions

Evin, Guillaume ; Dkengne Sielenou, Pascal ; Eckert, Nicolas ; Naveau, Philippe ; Hagenmuller, Pascal ; Morin, Samuel

Année de publication
2021
Résumé
<p align=justify>Remarkable episodes of avalanche events, so-called snow avalanche cycles, are recurring threats to people and infrastructures in mountainous areas. This study focuses on the hazard assessment of snow avalanche cycles defined by daily occurrence numbers exceeding the 2-year return level. To this aim, extreme value distributions are tailored to account for discrete observations and potential covariates. A comprehensive statistical framework is provided including model fitting, model selection and evaluation, and derivation of quantities of interest such as return levels. In each of the 23 massifs of the French Alps, two discrete generalized Pareto (dGP) models are applied to extreme avalanche cycles extracted from 60 years of daily avalanche activity observations from 1958 to 2018, an unconditional version and a conditional version incorporating snow and meteorological covariates. In the conditional dGP model, the scale parameter is allowed to depend on snow and meteorological conditions from a local reanalysis, leading the corresponding distributions to outperform their unconditional counterparts in about half of the French Alps massifs. Unconditional dGP models provide valuable estimates of high return levels of avalanche numbers. In particular, it is shown that the number of avalanches per path which can be expected on average every 100 and 300 years for the French Alps is approximately equal to 0.25 (roughly one avalanche for four paths) and 0.32 (one avalanche for three paths). As exemplified with the January 2018 Eleanor winter storm, conditional dGP models refine the statistical description of the largest avalanche cycles by providing the information conditional to specific meteorological and snow conditions, with potential applications to avalanche forecasting and climate change impact studies. The same framework could be put to work in other mountain areas and for analyzing extreme counts of various other damaging phenomena.</p>
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