Natural Hazards

, Volume 80, Issue 2, pp 1303–1321 | Cite as

Snow avalanche hazard assessment and risk management in northern Quebec, eastern Canada

Original Paper


In the northern environments of Quebec (eastern Canada), snow avalanche hazards have been ignored for a long time because no major incident was recorded before the tragedies of Blanc-Sablon (Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence River) in 1995 and Kangiqsualujjuaq (Nunavik) in 1999. To enhance risk reduction at these sites, this research on process characteristics describes prone terrain, run-out distance and triggering factors, and prompted efforts (permanent and temporary measures) made to mitigate and prevent future snow avalanche tragedy from short, steep slopes. Considering the high vulnerability of these communities related to the growing population of Nunavik and the lack of knowledge of avalanches on the Lower North Shore, acceptable risk was based on the implementation of a snow avalanche forecasting and warning program over 3 years, the first one in eastern Canada. Community participation and the involvement of the municipal and provincial authorities have enabled the efficient operation of the program and accentuate the sensitivity and resilience of the populations to avalanche hazard and risk, as evidenced by the subsequent identification of avalanche sites by the communities themselves. These case studies demonstrate the importance of adequate and safe land planning, notably in the context of climate change, and particularly for isolated northern communities.


Snow avalanche Risk management Warning system Northern Quebec Lower North Shore Nunavik 



I am grateful to Quebec Ministry of Public Safety, particularly George Beauchemin, Martin Simard, Martine Lapierre and Claude Ferland. Without their assistance and support, the successful implementation of the snow avalanche monitoring program could not have been achieved. I would also like to thank the NGI, particularly Karstein Lied, Ulrik Domaas and Erik Hestness for their support, comments and discussions. The assistance of Craig Lindgard of the Kativik Public Security Department was invaluable during my numerous visits in Nunavik. Also thank you to the mayors and local people of the communities that this work focused on for their kindness, understanding and support throughout the process of risk management.


  1. Allard M, Lemay M (2012) Nunavik and Nunatsiavut: from science to policy. An integrated regional impact study of climate change and modernization. Arctic Net Inc., Quebec city, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkins D, Williams K (2000) 50 years of avalanche deaths in the Unites States. Proceedings of the International Snow Science Workshop, Big Sky, MT, pp 16–20Google Scholar
  3. Bakkehoi S, Domaas U, Lied K (1983) Calculation of snow avalanche run-out distance. Ann Glaciol 4:24–29Google Scholar
  4. Batterson M, Liverman DG, Taylor D, Ryan J (1999) The assessment of geological hazards in Newfoundland—an update. Current Research, Newfoundland Department of Mines and Energy, Geological Survey Branch, Report 99–1: 95–124.
  5. Boucher D, Filion L, Hétu B (2003) Reconstitution dendrochronologique et fréquence des grosses avalanches de neige dans un couloir subalpine du mont Hog’s Back, Gaspésie central (Québec). Géog Phys Quatern 57:159–168Google Scholar
  6. Campbell C, Bakermans L, Jamieson B, Stethem C (2007) Current and future snow avalanche threats and mitigation measures in Canada. Canadian Avalanche Centre, RevelstokeGoogle Scholar
  7. Cutter SL (1996) Vulnerability to environmental hazards. Prog Hum Geogr 20:529–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cutter SL, Mitchell JT, Scott MS (2000) Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: a case study of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 90:713–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dionne J-C (1984) Palses et limite méridionale du pergéslisol dans l’hémisphère nord: la cas de Blanc-Sablon, Québec. Géog Phys Quatern 38:165–184Google Scholar
  10. Dubé S, Filion L, Hétu B (2004) Tree-ring reconstruction of high-magnitude snow avalanches in the northern Gaspe Peninsula, Québec. Arct Antarct Alp Res 36:555–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Environnement Canada (2011) Archives nationales d’information et de données climatologiques.
  12. Ford JD (2009) Dangerous climate change and the importance of adaptation for the Arctic Inuit population. Environ Res Lett. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/2/024006 Google Scholar
  13. Ford JD, Pearce T, Duerden F, Furgal, C Smith B (2010) Climate change policy responses for Canada:s Inuit population: the importance of and opportunities for adaptation. Environ ChangeGoogle Scholar
  14. Fortin G, Hétu B, Germain D (2011) Climat hivernal et régimes avalancheux dans les corridors routiers de la Gaspésie septentrionale (Québec, Canada). Climatologie 8:9–25Google Scholar
  15. Gagnon S (2003) Avalanche incident comes as a choc in Québec. Avalanche News 66:52–53Google Scholar
  16. Germain D, Filion L, Hétu B (2005) Snow avalanche activity after fire and logging disturbances, northern Gaspé Peninsula, Québec, Canada. Can J Earth Sci 42:2103–2116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Germain D, Filion L, Hétu B (2009) Snow avalanche regime and climatic conditions in the Chic-Choc Range, eastern canada. Clim Change 92:141–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Germain D, Hétu B, Filion L (2010) Tree-ring based reconstruction of past snow avalanche events and risk assessment in Northern Gaspé Peninsula (Québec, Canada). In: Stoffel M, Bollschweiler M, Butler DR, Luckman BH (eds) Tree rings and natural hazards, a state-of-the-art. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 51–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (2007) Avalanches.
  20. Government of Québec (2000) Report: Inquiry into the causes and circumstances surrounding the deaths in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nouveau-Québec on January 1, 1999. Le coroner en chef, Ste-FoyGoogle Scholar
  21. Haegeli P, McClung DM (2003) Avalanche characteristics of a transitional snow climate—Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Cold Reg Sci Technol 37:255–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hétu B (2007) Les conditions météorologiques propices au déclenchement des avalanches de neige dans les corridors routiers du nord de la Gaspésie, Québec, Canada. Géog Phys Quatern 61:81–96Google Scholar
  23. Hétu B, Bergeron A (2004) Les avalanches au Québec: Analyse des conditions météorologiques et des facteurs de terrain propices au déclenchement des avalanches. Rapport présenté dans le cadre du Projet Conjoint de Sécurité-Avalanche au Québec, Canadian Avalanche AssociationGoogle Scholar
  24. Hétu B, Dubé J-F (1995) L’avalanche meurtrière du 10 mars 1995 à Blanc-Sablon (mont Bon-Enfant, Basse Côte-Nord). Ministère de la sécurité publique, QuébecGoogle Scholar
  25. Hétu B, Brown K, Germain D (2011) Les victimes d’avalanches au Québec entre 1825 et 2009. Le Géographe Canadien 55:273–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Irwin D, Owens I (2004) A history of avalanche accidents in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In Proceedings of the international snow science workshop. Jackson Hole, WY, pp 484–491Google Scholar
  27. Jamieson B (1997) The avalanche at Good Child Hill in Blanc-Sablon. QubecGoogle Scholar
  28. Jamieson B, Brooks GR (1998) Regional snow avalanche activity and known fatal accidents for Canada (1863 to June 1997). Map no. 3592. Geological Society of Canada, Ottawa, ONGoogle Scholar
  29. Jamieson B, Geldsetzer T (1997) Avalanche accidents in Canada, vol 4, 1984–1996, Canadian Avalanche Association, PO Box 2759, Revelstoke, BC, V0E 2S0Google Scholar
  30. Jamieson B, Stethem C (2002) Snow avalanche hazards and management in Canada: challenges and progress. Nat Hazards 26:35–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jarry F, Sivardière F (2000) Characteristics of fatal avalanche accidents in France 1989–1999. Proceedings of the International Snow Science Workshop. Big Sky, MT, pp 8–15Google Scholar
  32. Jomelli V, Delval C, Grancher D, Escande S, Brunstein D, Hétu B, Filion L (2007) Probabilistic analysis of recent snow avalanche activity and weather in the French Alps. Cold Reg Sci Technol 47:180–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jones AT, Jamieson B (2004) Statistical avalanche-runout estimation for short slopes in Canada. Annals of Glaciology 38:363–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Landry B, Beaulieu J, Gauthier M, Lucotte M, Moingt M, Ochietti S, Pinti DL, Quirion M (2013) Notions de géologie. ModuloGoogle Scholar
  35. Larocque S, Hétu B, Filion L (2001) Geomorphic and dendroecological impacts of slushflow in central Gaspé Peninsula (Québec, Canada). Geogr Ann 83A:191–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lied K, Bakkehoi S (1980) Empirical calculations of snow-avalanche run-out distance based on topographic parameters. J Glaciol 26:165–177Google Scholar
  37. Lied K, Domaas U (2000) Avalanche hazard assessment in Nunavik and on Côte-Nord, Quebec. Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  38. Lied K, Toppe R (1983) Calculation of maximum snow-avalanche run-out distance by use of digital terrain models. Ann Glaciol 13:164–169Google Scholar
  39. Liverman DG (2007) Killer snow. Flanker Press, St John’sGoogle Scholar
  40. Liverman DG, Batterson MJ, Taylor D, Ryan J (2001) Geological hazards and disasters in Newfoundland. Can Geotech J 38:936–956CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McClung DM, Schaerer PA (1993) The Avalanche handbook. The Mountaineers Books, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  42. Newton J, Paci CD, Ogden A (2005) Climate change and natural hazards in northern Canada: integrating indigenous perspectives with government policy. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 10:541–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Norem H, Irgens F, Schieldrop B (1987) A continuum model for calculating snow avalanche velocities. Proceedings of Avalanche formation, movements and effects, Davos 1986, IAHS publication vol 162, pp 363–378Google Scholar
  44. Page CE, Atkins D, Shockley LW, Yaron M (1999) Avalanche deaths in the Unites States: a 45-years analysis. Wilderness Environ Med 10:146–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Perla RI, Cheng TT, McClung DM (1980) A two parameter model of snow-avalanche motion. J Glaciol 26:197–207Google Scholar
  46. Perla RI, Lied K, Kristensen K (1984) Particle simulation of snow avalanche motion. Cold Reg Sci Technol 9:191–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Salm B (1997) Principles of avalanche hazard mapping in Switzerland. In: Izumi M, Nakamura T, Sack RL (eds) Snow engineering: recent advances. A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 531–538Google Scholar
  48. Schaerer PA (1987) Avalanche accidents in Canada III: a selection of case histories of accidents, 1978–1984. National Research Council of Canada IRC Paper no. 1468Google Scholar
  49. Schaerer P, Jamieson B, Stethem C (1999) Avalanche hazard mitigation for Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec. Technical report.Google Scholar
  50. Schweizer J, Mitterer C, Stoffel L (2009) On forecasting large and infrequent snow avalanches. Cold Reg Sci Technol 59:234–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sécurité publique Canada (2007) Base de données canadienne sur les désastres.
  52. Stethem C, Schaerer PA (1979) Avalanche Accidents in Canada I. A selection of case histories of accidents 1955 to 1976. National Research Council of Canada, Division of Building Research, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  53. Stethem C, Schaerer PA (1980) Avalanche Accidents in Canada II. A selection of case histories of accidents 1943–1978. National Research Council of Canada, Division of Building Research, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  54. Stethem C, Jamieson B, Schaerer P, Liverman D, Germain D, Walker S (2003) Snow avalanche hazard in Canada—a review. Nat Hazards 28:487–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vincent WF, Lemay M, Allard M, Wolfe BB (2013) Adapting to permafrost change: a science framework. EOS 94:373–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de GéographieUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations