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Effects of another drought year in the Sierras'

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Effects of another drought year in the Sierras'

Postby Rockchucker » Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:05 am

Seems to me we are headed towards another year of record low precipitation on the west coast. Last year on one of my hikes we camped at spring that has never dried up in recent history but we found it dry as a bone. I talked to the guy who owns this property and his dad did before that and according to him the spring was always reliable since the 20's. What do all you Sierra experts think about a third dry year in a row? How will this effect you planned or unplanned trips? I'm organizing several trips for the spring and as of right now I'm preying for some weather to recharge the water supply. I read one report that said we could be headed to an extended dry period that could last a hundred years!

What's your thoughts?
Last edited by Rockchucker on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby John Dittli » Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:23 am

We most certainly could be heading into a multi year or even multi decade drought.

There is well established (but relatively unknown) evidence in the Sierra of a 200 year drought that took place from ~1100 AD to 1300 AD. This evidence is seen in large trees still rooted in the depths of Tenaya Lake, under water in the Tahoe Basin and the Walker River. If and when another drought of this magnitude happens is anyones guess. But in all likeliness, it will happen again.

IMHO, if such a drought occurs, it will change civilization as we know it here in the west, just as the last one did with the Anasazi culture.

Not much we can do about it as it is a natural climatic fluctuation (though there is evidence that human induced climate change could encourage factors creating such a drought). So for now, recreationally, watch the snowpack and plan accordingly.

Keep in mind that in 1991, the Sierra went from about 10 inches of snow on March 1 to about 20 feet by the end of that same month.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby oldranger » Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:35 am

I'm considering starting my backpacking in the Sierra around the middle of May and ending it shortly after July 4. My concern is that even with little snow lakes may still be frozen and that the weather can still be nasty with significant storms still possible. More than one Memorial Day trip has been affected by significant snow and cold.

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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby markskor » Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:45 am

oldranger wrote:I'm considering starting my backpacking in the Sierra around the middle of May and ending it shortly after July 4.

Mike

Great minds thinking alike...

The last two seasons, also have gone out mid-May and mostly curtailed my hiking activities a scant 3 months later. Back a few years now, went out with Mike mid May when we explored south Yosemite - great fishing early season, and except for a snow storm Memorial Day, it turned out to be perfect hiking conditions. The best part was no crowds.
Indeed, conditions are changing - drier earlier, where streams usually dependable, start to run dry by late August. Interesting to note that we had a lengthy trail conversation about when the masses actually start heading up to altitude. Mike's conviction stated that the masses usually start out mid July, and last until just after Labor Day...just too late recently for prime conditions.

One of my fondest memories was being up near Voglesang, late May, and seeing no one for days. The HSC was just slabs... BTW, the fish were hungry.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby rlown » Sat Jan 04, 2014 12:17 pm

If there is a decade of drought ahead, Mark will be able to revisit several of his favorite lakes and recover a small fortune in red Z-Rays :p

In the late 80's/early 90's we used to be able to get out on Memorial day. There didn't seem to be that much snow then, but yes, most of the lakes were still semi-frozen. It's really hard to catch and land a fish if you have to chuck the lure over a shore ice lip 30' out.

I'm hoping we just have a late change to the jet stream and storms come in. Most of the reservoirs in the North Bay are running so low it's not funny anymore. Even at Folsom lk near Sacramento, the old town in the middle of the lake is beginning to show the foundations again.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby SSSdave » Sat Jan 04, 2014 12:26 pm

Won't decide what where when on my Sierra visits as is always the case until the snow situation is known even if that requires a late call in May.

Feel the same as John. As an old backpacker and skier, I recall the 1976-1977 two year drought and then the 1985>1991 years of low rainfall. Although the two 70s year drought had low winter rainfall, both had above normal monsoon weather in the summer. During the late 80s drought, on a few of those years there was only a single week or two of large storms when the jet stream moved south after staying north most of the winter. Were it not for that some of those winters would nearly have been as dry as last year. In 1986 the largest Pineapple Express in my lifetime occurred that was much like what happened during the 1998 monster storm. Something like 11 feet of snow at Mammoth and 40 inches of rain in some areas of Sonoma County causing epic flood on the Russian River. Most of the old decaying trees one sees in avalanche paths today were from the 1986 storm.

John >>>"Keep in mind that in 1991, the Sierra went from about 10 inches of snow on March 1 to about 20 feet by the end of that same month."

Yep the famous Miracle March. Moderate to heavy storms almost every day of the month after an ugly dry winter up to that point. Brought forth a most amazing display of vegetation and wildflowers in the Southern California deserts during my lifetime.

This winter, am not optimistic about some big event. Something unusual seems to be happening this time. TV news people on the West Coast continually whine about the rex high over the West Coast blocking storm without every mentioning other factors in our Northern Hemisphere. That high is there because of weather further east over the Atlantic kinking up its flow. The semi-permanent Icelandic Low in particular has a strong effect on the jetstream and of course due to melting ice in Arctic regions that is rapidly changing. One result during years we have low rainfall seems to be keeping the Northern Jetstream further north along the US/Canada border that then dives southeast into the central US.

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1808

Given tree ring and other studies John mentioned, I would not be too surprised to see 4 back to back dry years like this. That would have huge economic effects in Southern California, essentially a desert climate, where decades of unchecked growth and development has created a potential disaster senario. They will not be able to legislate stealing more of our northern water if our reservoirs are already empty.

This page discusses El Nino, El Nina, The Artic Oscillation:

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sat Jan 04, 2014 12:51 pm

The idea of getting out earlier has crossed my mind before but it certainly is cold. My experience after 2 years in a row of heading out June 1st is that I freeze my ass off in my 32F bag. Night time temperatures in the 20's or even in the teens with a storm is possible. The creek and lake water is also so cold that it hurts my faces and eyes when I rinse off in it.

It does sometimes have the added bonus of being ahead of the mosquitoes but that certainly was not the case for me last year.

As for planning what to do about not having water at any given place I don't worry too much that. Only a few places I have had water on my mind and when I got there I always had plenty.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby markskor » Sat Jan 04, 2014 1:38 pm

RoguePhotonic wrote:The idea of getting out earlier has crossed my mind before but it certainly is cold. My experience after 2 years in a row of heading out June 1st is that I freeze my ass off in my 32F bag.


As you get older, you will learn (lol)...Maybe time to get a new sleeping bag?
FYI. It was just this reason I bought Western Mountaineering...Now carry their Badger, rated at 15.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby sparky » Sat Jan 04, 2014 4:03 pm

I went out first week of june these last two years. Bring a 20 degree. Conditions have been perfect at this time of year, I dont really remember it being significantly colder?
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sat Jan 04, 2014 6:27 pm

Well on these long trips I like to take a 32F WM bag in order to save weight and most of the time it's just right. Then I send my 10F WM ahead for the start of September. I think I have learned I need to use the 10 degree bag and then send it ahead to another location by July.

2012 the first week of June I had snow and temperatures in the teens one night. This year I also had weather where I woke up and all the creeks were frozen. Had one night at Tilten Lake on June 14 where I woke up at 1am and had to put my down jacket on and wrap clothes around my feet but I never did warm up.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Seirras'

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 04, 2014 8:03 pm

Headed to Wyoming for this summer. When I was there a few years ago, it was warmer and drier than I have ever experienced- really low lake levels and warm water and algae blooms - rare for that area. Wyoming is headed for a normal to above normal snowpack, so I am looking forward to lots of water and snow. Last time I was in Wyoming the last third of my summer was marred by the Alpine Lake fire, one of the biggest in years. This summer I had to deal with smoke from the Rim Fire here. I seem to have had bad luck with timing of my trips and fires.

I still will get in a few early trips in the Sierra in June and perhaps a few late trips in Sept-Oct provided that the entire range is not shut down due to fire danger.
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Re: Effects of another drought year in the Sierras'

Postby dave54 » Sun Jan 05, 2014 1:10 pm

It's getting spooky in the woods.

If the drought continues the hiking season may be short. If the woods are dry enough a closure could be enacted by late July or so.

I have only a few patches of snow in my yard. in a normal year I'd have a couple feet. On the plus side the loggers are loving it. They are still harvesting in January. You rarely see that.
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