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Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

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Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby balzaccom » Wed Mar 18, 2015 7:54 am

If you've been reading the news, you know that the snowpack in some parts of the Sierra is 5% of normal. That's a disaster.

It's so dry that we're seriously considering taking a few backpacking trips this spring that head up into the Sierra high country. Normally, we're not excited about sleeping on snow, spending ten hours of darkness in our tent, or slipping and sliding over ice and mush for much of the day.

But this year, those seems like high class problems. There is no snow in the Sierra, particularly if you head further south. We called four different ranger stations in the last twenty-four hours to discuss the conditions on the trails in their area. Here's what we learned:

Beasore Road out of Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest is open and clear all way to Globe Rock. The side roads to the various trailheads in that region may also be clear, but nobody from the USFS has bothered to drive them yet. This road generally doesn't open up until late May or June. It's March. Snow levels are at about 8500 feet or so. They suggested that hikers might be more worried about mud than snow.

On the East side, many roads and trailheads are open in the Hoover Wilderness. Snow begins at about 8,000 to 8,500 feet, and doesn't really get to full coverage until about 9,000 feet. Kirman Lake, Buckeye Canyon, and most of those East side trailheads are at least open.

Emigrant Wilderness snows levels are lower, down to about 7,500 feet, so the roads and trailheads are not open. 108 is closed at the snow park 7 miles past Dodge Ridge. Crabtree Road is closed at Dodge Ridge.

Donner Pass snow level in the Tahoe NF is much lower, down to 6,500 feet or so. If you want to hike this area, you'll be hiking on snow.



Of course, all of this could change if we were blessed with a couple of massive snowstorms...that don't seem to be on the horizon.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby Tom_H » Wed Mar 18, 2015 9:56 am

Yea, this little system we got a few days ago didn't provide much. The two series of back to back systems we got earlier in the season did not come from the normal source. The jet stream that usually brings our moisture curves up toward the Gulf of Alaska, then back down toward Washington and Oregon. Most years we get the bottom edge of the storms that pass through the Cascades. A high pressure cell has blocked those storms from coming south to us during this drought. I don't know about this year, but last year a lot of moisture that was blocked from coming our way wound up in the Rockies; the Wind River Range was way above normal last year.

The two substantive systems we got this year were "Pineapple Express" systems. They were brought in by a part of the equatorial jet stream that temporarily flickered off and came north. This meant the moisture that was brought to us was warmer and a greater percentage of what precipitated out of them fell as rain rather than snow. At the end of the first series, we were almost at normal for rainfall in the Sacramento Valley (not sure about the San Joachin Valley and the Tulare Lake Basin). The second series again brought us almost to normal for rainfall here. The thing was, most of the moisture got squeezed out as rain and there wasn't much left, nor were all other conditions optimal, for snow to fall from them in the Sierra.

So this is what worries me greatly. Of the precipitation that we have received, most of it has come from somewhere other than our normal source. Almost no moisture has come from the northwest, and the little we have gotton has come from the southwest. That water from the equator is typically an infrequent thing. It may be enough this year to stave off total disaster, but Pineapple Express moisture isn't something we can count on and the total dearth of water from our usual source should be making us quake in our boots.

An El Nino was predicted to have formed by last fall, but didn't. Meteorologists say the thing formed just recently, but it was too late to provide moisture to us. Maybe it will last long enough for the jet stream to pick up moisture from it next season, and maybe some of it will come our way. If not, we have a problem.

I don't want to get into natural or human causation for current trends, but the climate does historically change. If you scuba dive in Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, you will find standing trees as tall as 98 feet rooted at the bottom. Similar conditions exist throughout Sierra lakes. These trees grew slowly during times of less precipitation (tree rings indicate Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf may have been 120 feet lower, with no outflow, for as long as 200 years during the Middle Ages) and then were covered when basins filled in more recent times. The attached article posits that this last century may have been one of the wettest centuries in the last four millinea. If this is true, it may be that the climate currently is simply returning to its norm. That's really scary.

http://climateaudit.org/2006/12/06/unde ... a-nevadas/
Last edited by Tom_H on Wed Mar 18, 2015 2:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby balzaccom » Wed Mar 18, 2015 2:02 pm

Good post, Tom. Thanks for sharing those thoughts.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby rlown » Wed Mar 18, 2015 3:11 pm

more worried about our wells going dry. Tom H might be as well. Sprinklers haven't been on for 8 months. Sierra snow doesn't help me for this.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby Tom_H » Wed Mar 18, 2015 5:00 pm

rlown wrote:more worried about our wells going dry. Tom H might be as well.


Yea, I am worried. Sixteen years ago, I spent $160k creating an artificial Sierra in my backyard. I have a big pool with 8 ft. waterfalls built out of huge boulders that were trucked in, surrounded by redwood trees. I have a couple of hundred trees with azaleas, rhodies, camellias, and other woodland flowering plants. I wanted my own Sierra tarn to enjoy with my log home. Now I have to choose between pumping the well to water them or letting them all die. Not an enjoyable place to be in.

rlown wrote:Sprinklers haven't been on for 8 months. Sierra snow doesn't help me for this.


I've heard it said that the Cosumnes River used to never go dry. The ground had enough water that springs flowed from the banks into the river all summer. As you know, it now goes dry earlier and earlier in the spring. They say that the winter river flow now feeds some water back into the ground due to it being so over pumped and dry. There is about a foot of still water in the river at the moment and Deer Creek isn't flowing either. I know the Cosumnes doesn't have much springtime snow feed to begin with, however the lower amount of snow around the source means less melt water coming down the river to offer at least a trickle of flow back into the ground. I hope that makes sense.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby Big Ed » Wed Mar 18, 2015 8:02 pm

I took this picture from Shuteye Pass Saturday.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby rlown » Wed Mar 18, 2015 8:36 pm

Tom_H wrote:I've heard it said that the Cosumnes River used to never go dry. The ground had enough water that springs flowed from the banks into the river all summer. As you know, it now goes dry earlier and earlier in the spring. They say that the winter river flow now feeds some water back into the ground due to it being so over pumped and dry. There is about a foot of still water in the river at the moment and Deer Creek isn't flowing either. I know the Cosumnes doesn't have much springtime snow feed to begin with, however the lower amount of snow around the source means less melt water coming down the river to offer at least a trickle of flow back into the ground. I hope that makes sense.


usually about this time of year, Wilton's trash cans are floating in the ditches, literally. Yep. We need both snow and rain. The last storms in Petaluma/north bay area did ok. As I seem to have some sort of an underground river running through part of my ppty, my well probably gets charged. Guess the next step is talking to the neighbors and making sure we all don't waste water. No rain, no recharge.

Nice pic Ed. Color in some more snow please! :)
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby allnatural49 » Wed Mar 18, 2015 9:14 pm

A friend of mine snapped this flying over the Florence lake area a couple days ago. This is looking south, you can see Florence at the bottom of the pic.

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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby Big Ed » Thu Mar 19, 2015 12:32 am

Somebody do a snow dance.
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Re: Sierra Snow...how bad is it?

Postby Hobbes » Thu Mar 19, 2015 7:42 am

From a slightly different perspective, ocean temperatures are around 6-7 degrees above normal. Usually around this time in spring, SoCal should be in the mid-high 50s, but it's been 61-62 with Hermosa reporting 64 the other day.

We were in SF during the February heat wave, and I was talking to a guy who was going out in his 4/3 mm wetsuit. He said the water @ Ocean beach was in the mid-high 50s, when it should have been around 49 necessitating a hooded 5/4.

Spring at the coast should be cold & foggy, not bright, sunny & warm. It was almost 90 last Sat/Sun, sending record amounts of people the beaches. I was out in my 2mm short-sleeve full ... during the afternoon. Pure glass with no wind/ocean breeze whatsoever.
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Barren Tahoe slopes harbinger of a summer of water woes

Postby rlown » Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:03 am

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.jpg


Picture says it all.

Full story at: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/37240 ... rbinger-of
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