Over the Thanksgiving holiday a cold, dry, low pressure system dropped into the Great Basin and turned on the snow-making machine south of Mono Lake. Cold air moving south over Mono Lake warmed slightly and absorbed evaporative water from the lake. As the air rose over the Mono Craters and points south the water vapor cooled and fell as snow. From November 26–27, champagne powder piled up over localized areas like the Mono Craters. Although Lee Vining and Eastern Sierra precipitation remains about average for October and November, the most recent storm provided an unusual lake-effect snow phenomenon. (more…)
The word is that Godzilla has returned, and he might be coming to Mono Lake. A powerful El Niño has developed in the Pacific and at least one climatologist and a host of media sources are touting this event as a “Godzilla” El Niño.
Godzilla’s storyline works. This was a monster that originally emerged from the ocean, and kept coming back. Through Godzilla’s various incarnations and movie sequels he took on a complex, mysterious, and powerful aura. He was not necessarily evil, nor was he good, but there was no stopping him. He trampled cities, battled other monsters, and was indifferent to everything in his path. He was the waltzing, overgrown sea-lizard of mayhem. (more…)
For the second summer in a row, Mono Lake remained impenetrably green through the summer season. The lake typically transforms into a blue, Lake Tahoe-like clarity as abundant Artemia monica (brine shrimp) graze microscopic algae from the upper water column. Satellite images from this summer continued to show a shrinking, and unyieldingly-green Mono Lake.
Artemia were present, but their numbers seemed to decline as the summer progressed. During the summer of 2014, the mean Artemia abundance was the fourth-lowest ever recorded since 1979, and the greatest decline in abundance (79%) took place from July to August—much earlier than typically seen in Mono Lake. It’s likely that a similar trend occurred in 2015; however (more…)
The Walker Fire continues and Highway 120 west has been open and closed periodically with a Highway Patrol escort. Please check road conditions before you travel. Lee Vining remains under alert for possible evacuation, but we remain optimistic that an evacuation will not be necessary. Highway 395 remains clear and open without restrictions at this time.
Afternoon winds can change fire conditions dramatically as they have throughout the life of this fire, and road closures can change. Click here for up-to-date conditions reports.
The Tioga Pass Road, Highway 120 west into Yosemite National Park / Tuolumne Meadows, is currently closed. Campgrounds remain closed in the lower canyon as firefighting efforts on the Walker Fire continue. There is also a threat to Highway 395, with anticipated closure this afternoon, so be sure to check the latest road conditions before traveling.
Fire crews worked overnight to stop the Walker Fire spreading east to Highway 395 and north toward Highway 120. The fire is currently 7% contained, and more fire activity is expected today. Lee Vining is currently under a precautionary notice for potential evacuation in case fire activity spreads. Highway 120 west remains closed from Highway 395 to the Blue Slide (just east of Warren Fork). Highway 120 is unlikely to open today. The cause of the fire, originating at Walker Lake, is currently under investigation.
After four years of drought in California snow has become a rare sight in the Sierra Nevada, but in July?! Last week an upper-level low-pressure system moved westward across California and generated thunderstorms, rain, hail, and a local dose of real snow to the Tioga Pass region, especially in the Lee Vining Creek headwaters. The area around Saddlebag Lake, in particular, received a solid coating of snow, estimated between 6-10″ in the early morning hours of July 9. The morning was reminiscent of January, except for highlights of bright green vegetation struggling through an unfamiliar white blanket. With a strong El Nino building in the Pacific, might this be a harbinger of the winter ahead? California, the Sierra Nevada, and Mono Lake are greatly in need of anything close to a normal snowpack, but as this past week illustrates, there is no normal with precipitation in California, just variability.
If climate model trends prove true, a significant El Niño event may be present by next fall. Could it mean an end to the California drought? Will it reverse Mono Lake’s falling lake level?
If El Niño strengthens and persists into the late fall, there will be an increased chance of above-normal precipitation for Southern California. The Eastern Sierra could also benefit, and the prognosis would be encouraging compared to the last four years. However, there are no guarantees, especially in an age of increasing oceanic and atmospheric temperatures and shifting climate patterns. We have observed few strong El Niño events in California history, and if one develops this fall it will be the most closely monitored and talked about to date.
In 2014 there were encouraging signs of a strong El Niño, but forecasts missed the mark. The Pacific is showing even more robust conditions this year, and the models are more bullish than ever. Even if an El Niño brings abundant precipitation in 2016, one wet winter cannot make up the deficit from California’s most extreme drought in 1,200 years.
This post was also published as an article in the Summer 2015 Mono Lake Newsletter.
By now, nearly everyone has heard that California is suffering from record-setting drought. After four consecutive years of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures, the state is reeling. Every watershed in California is stressed, a mandatory 25% water reduction is in effect for residents, urban areas have begun rationing supplies, over half a million acres of agricultural land are fallowed, fish species are nearing extinction, millions of trees in the Sierra are dying from drought-related stress, and fire danger is extreme. Water levels in lakes and reservoirs around the state are well-below normal. The Mono Basin is also suffering from extraordinary drought.
Four dry years have depressed Mono Lake five feet in elevation and the lake is expected to lose around two feet this year. (more…)
Over half of all urban water use goes toward outdoor use. In Southern California, residential lawns provide a frontier of opportunity to conserve water. The worst drought in the state’s history and some strategic financial incentives have sparked a water-saving landscape revolution.
Throughout Southern California public utilities are offering financial incentive to replace water-intensive lawns with more water efficient landscapes. Turf replacement in the Southland is so successful that (more…)