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The Mono-logue » Bartshé, Education Director

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Walker Fire continues, road conditions changeable

Monday, August 17th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

Helicopter drops water from Walker Lake on spotfires near Williams Butte on August 17.

A helicopter drops water from Walker Lake on spotfires near Williams Butte on August 17.

Walker Fire boundary at the end of August  16, 2015.

The latest mapped fire boundary, now at 3,700 acres.

View of Waler Fire looking north on August 17 at appr. 11am.

Looking north across to the Walker Fire burn area at about 11:00am on August 17, conditions looked encouraging at this time. Photos by Bartshe Miller.

Walker Fire update: Highway 120 (Tioga Pass road) and Highway 395 affected

Monday, August 17th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

The Walker Fire on August 16 at 1:00pm, looking more subdued compared to the smoke and flames the day before.

The Walker Fire on August 16 at 1:00pm. The situation looks more subdued compared to the visible smoke and flames the day before. Well done fire and air crews! Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Walker Fire 7% contained

Sunday, August 16th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

Walker fire burns in Bohler Canyon.

The Walker Fire burns during the night of August 15, just west of Highway 395, in Bohler Canyon. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

July, the new January?

Saturday, July 11th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

Mt. Dana, above Tioga Pass on July 9, 2015.

Mt. Dana, above Tioga Pass on July 9, 2015.

New snow above Saddlebag Lake

Mt. Excelsior and ridge in fresh snow behind Saddlebag Lake, July 9, 2015.

Saddlebag Lake and the Tioga Ridge

Saddlebag Lake, Shepherd Crest (upper-left) and the Tioga Ridge on July 9, 2015. Note heavy snow near the ridge and Dore Pass (from upper-middle to upper- right). Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Penstemon newberryi

Mountain Pride, Penstemon newberryi, in fresh snow, July 9, 2015. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

El Niño: Drought savior or much ado about nada?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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?

A very strong El Niño event in 2015 continues to be suggested by models.

A very strong El Niño event in 2015 continues to be suggested by models.

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.

Mono Lake mired in drought

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

Negit Island and islets, October 2012 at lake level 6382.4'. Today the lake is 6379', four feet above the connection with Negit Island. Photo by Arya Degenhardt, with Aerial support by Lighthawk.

Negit Island and islets, October 2012 at lake level 6382.4′. Today the lake is 6379′, four feet above the connection with Negit Island. Photo by Arya Degenhardt, with Aerial support by Lighthawk.

Four dry years have depressed Mono Lake five feet in elevation and the lake is expected to lose around two feet this year. (more…)

Blue revolution in Southern California

Sunday, June 7th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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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.

How big is 172 million square feet? It’s the equivalent of all of Los Angeles International Airport and a chunk of El Segundo. Imagine every square foot of this circle yielding 42 gallons of water each year.

How big is 172 million square feet? It’s the equivalent of all of Los Angeles International Airport and a chunk of El Segundo. Imagine every square foot of this circle yielding 42 gallons of water each year.

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…)

Drier, warmer, lower: DWP water export reduction likely

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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A superlative drought continues for California and the impacts are unprecedented. Wherever you live in the state you can’t easily ignore the feeling that winter has been mostly absent. Rain and snow have largely missed California four years in a row. Record dry and warm conditions have combined to produce the worst drought in the state’s recorded weather history. By some measures it’s the most acute in 1,200 years.

The central Sierra Nevada sits at the epicenter of the worst drought conditions. Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra remain at the boundary of exceptional and extreme drought categories as defined by the US Department of Agriculture. It has been so dry that Lee Vining and the Mono Basin have lost roughly the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of precipitation within the last three. So far this water year, we are running at 23% of normal with more than half of the winter past us. Record warm temperatures in the Sierra continue with increased sublimation, evaporation, and further dehydration of soils. (more…)

Warmest winter ever, again

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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California just logged its warmest winter in history by the widest margin in history. December 2014 through February 2015 hosted average temperatures soaring 5.9°F above the long-term mean. This record increase topped the previous record gain by 1.5°F.

The state’s last record warm winter was … all the way back in 2014. Before this year, December 2013–February 2014 was the warmest winter in California history by 4.4°F above average (a 0.8°F increase over the previous record, which was, until this year, the highest record increase).

California Average Temperatures December-February

Record high winter temperatures in California, December 2014-February 2015.

What about Lee Vining? We are still compiling the data, but it’s probable that Lee Vining tracked with the rest of the state. In February 2015 alone, 26 of 28 days brought well-above average temperatures to the town, typically reaching 6–24 degrees above average. For several consecutive days in February temperatures hovered at 67°F (a record high for February). Such extreme winter warmth rapidly melts snowpack while accelerating soil moisture loss in snowless terrain.

And what about the Sierra Nevada snowpack? Statewide it’s currently the lowest in history, sitting at 17% of average for April 1.

Mono Lake last year: Warmer, greener?

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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Each summer, Mono Lake undergoes a transformation. Brine shrimp flourish, alkali flies assemble, birds multiply, and the lake slowly transitions from green to tropical blue. Trillions of the endemic brine shrimp, Artemia monica, graze on algae in the upper water column, efficiently converting algal biomass into Artemia biomass. By early summer, following a peak in Artemia population, the upper waters shift from looking murky green to transparent blue. The process is so dramatic that the difference can be seen from space.

Brine shrimp typically graze Mono Lake free of algae each summer, yielding clear blue water. Photo courtesy of Russ Taylor.

Brine shrimp typically graze Mono Lake free of algae each summer, yielding clear blue water. Photo courtesy of Russ Taylor.

During the summer of 2014, for the first time that we know of, the lake did not turn blue. Like previous years, Artemia hatched in the late winter, slowly developed through the spring, and grew to seemingly robust numbers in May and June. Unlike previous years, the lake retained its greenish cast through (more…)

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