snow pack


Tioga Pass Unwrapped: A Rare Midwinter Glimpse of “The Roof of California”

Authorities finally closed California’s highest mountain pass this week. Right before they did, Climate Watch contributor Dan Brekke got to see what few of us glimpse this time of year.

Highway 120 in Yosemite National Park winds toward Tioga Pass. The road closed Tuesday night after its longest winter opening since at least 1933.

It first captivated me back when I was an adolescent map reader back in the Midwest. I was poring over maps of California for a trip that didn’t happen—then—and took note of the roads across the Sierra Nevada. And the highest of all the mountain routes I could see crossed Tioga Pass, at an altitude that rounds to 10,000 feet. Nearly two miles above sea level.

Eventually I took that trip to California, but it was still a long time before I actually saw the place the map depicted. A good 15 years or so after I moved out here, I managed to scramble up there on a long weekend and spent a single afternoon driving Highway 120, the Tioga Road. Continue reading

Sierra Snow Outlook is Bleak

Water users may be relying heavily on leftover water storage from last year

Hard to imagine now: A snowed-over road near Lake Tahoe in March.

It was startling to see the state’s lead snow surveyor kneeling on bare grass near Echo Summit, trying to find enough snow to measure the water content. But so it went with the first official survey of the season, conducted by California’s Dept. of Water Resources.

The manual survey affirmed what remote sensors had already relayed — that water content in the Sierra snowpack stands at just 19% of the average reading for this time, right around New Year’s. The readings are just seven percent of where things usually stand on April first, meaning we have a long way to go, to get back to “normal.” Continue reading

Snow Surveys of the Future

A white fir outfitted with snow sensors in the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Trying to interview guys who wear backcountry skis to work can be tough…especially when trudging behind on snowshoes with a pack full of recording equipment. But my visit to the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory was worth the slog.

It’s a patch of forest at about 6,000 feet near Shaver Lake in the Southern Sierra, in what’s known as the rain-snow transition zone. The snowpack at this elevation is likely to be the first to reflect climate change as temperatures warm and snow turns to rain. Scientists at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute, in conjunction with UC Berkeley, have developed new, high tech sensors to intensively monitor snow melt and runoff here. Continue reading