[av-uh-lanch, -lahnch]
a large mass of snow, ice, etc., detached from a mountain slope and sliding or falling suddenly downward.
anything like an avalanche in suddenness and overwhelming quantity: an avalanche of misfortunes; an avalanche of fan mail.
Also called Townsend avalanche. Physics, Chemistry. a cumulative ionization process in which the ions and electrons of one generation undergo collisions that produce a greater number of ions and electrons in succeeding generations.
verb (used without object), avalanched, avalanching.
to come down in, or like, an avalanche.
verb (used with object), avalanched, avalanching.
to overwhelm with an extremely large amount of anything; swamp.

1755–65; < French < dial. (Savoy) avalantse, alteration (by association with avaler to descend rapidly) of laventse < pre-Latin (perhaps Ligurian) *lavanca, or reshaping of Late Latin labīna landslide (derivative of Latin labī to slide) with a pre-Latin suffix -anca

avalanche, landslide.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
avalanche (ˈævəˌlɑːntʃ)
1.  a.  a fall of large masses of snow and ice down a mountain
 b.  a fall of rocks, sand, etc
2.  a sudden or overwhelming appearance of a large quantity of things: an avalanche of letters
3.  physics a group of ions or electrons produced by a single ion or electron as a result of a collision with some other form of matter
4.  to come down overwhelmingly (upon)
[C18: from French, by mistaken division from la valanche, from valanche, from (northwestern Alps) dialect lavantse; related to Old Provençal lavanca, of obscure origin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

1771, from Fr. avalanche, from Romansch (Swiss) avalantze "descent," altered (by metathesis of -l- and -v-, probably influenced by O.Fr. avaler "to descend, go down") from Savoy dial. lavantse, from Prov. lavanca "avalanche," perhaps from a pre-L. Alpine language (the suffix -anca suggests Ligurian).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
avalanche   (āv'ə-lānch')  Pronunciation Key 
  1. The sudden fall or slide of a large mass of material down the side of a mountain. Avalanches may contain snow, ice, rock, soil, or a mixture of these materials. Avalanches can be triggered by changes in temperature, by sound vibrations, or by vibrations in the earth itself.

  2. A process resulting in the production of large numbers of ionized particles, in which electrons or ions collide with molecules, with each collision itself producing an additional electron or ion that in turn collides with other molecules. Avalanches are what generate the pulses of electric current that are registered by Geiger counters.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Avalanche rescue beacons have become standard equipment for many skiers and
  snowmobilers who go into wilderness areas.
He also thought the paper would provoke some reaction, though the avalanche of
  interest has overwhelmed him.
To set off an electronic avalanche is relatively easy.
Before the unprepared system monitors could react, an avalanche was in motion.
Image for avalanche
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