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Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist | The Mono-logue - Part 2

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The Mono Basin’s wettest July since 1965

Thursday, July 16th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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At the Cain Ranch weather station, five miles south of Lee Vining, as of July 13, 1.57 inches of rain had fallen in July. That makes this month already the second-wettest July on record after the 1.98 inches of rain in July 1965. Records at this location began in 1931. Rain fell on all but two days between July 1 and 10, and while it has been dry there since July 10, it still has been raining in other parts of the Mono Basin almost every day.

The wet July continues the wet May-June centered on Mono County. This map from the Western Regional Climate Center shows April-June precipitation in percent of average.

This wet July continues the wet May–June centered on Mono County. This map from the Western Regional Climate Center shows April–June precipitation in percent of average.

Lee Vining Creek above the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) diversion dam experienced its peak flow of about 124 cubic feet per second on July 11, from rain and melting fresh snow. Below the dam, the minimum flow is being released, and the floodwaters are being diverted to Grant Lake Reservoir, which has been slowly rising since May.

Aside from brief floods due to thunderstorms, the Mono Basin’s creeks are dropping to the very low levels that were otherwise expected this summer. If the thunderstorms stop, we will start seeing new low flow records later this month, especially in watersheds without glaciers, such as Walker Creek. The April–September snowmelt runoff forecast issued by DWP in May predicted 19% of average runoff, with a lower bound of 7% and an upper bound of 32%. Nineteen percent is less than half of the runoff measured in 1977, the driest year on record; 32% is still much drier than the driest year on record. Thanks to the recent wet weather, Mono Basin runoff is on track to reach 32%.

Extreme precipitation amidst extreme drought

Friday, July 3rd, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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On the evening of July 1st, rain falling on Mono Lake during thunderstorms could be heard two miles away. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

On the evening of July 1st, rain falling on Mono Lake during thunderstorms could be heard two miles away. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

The Mono Basin is a land of extremes, and this year’s weather is no exception. Temperatures since January are the warmest on record. October–March precipitation in Lee Vining was the lowest on record. April–September precipitation, on the other hand, already is the highest on record—and we are only halfway through that time period! This water year (October 1, 2014–September 30, 2015) is the first time Apr–Sept precipitation has exceeded Oct–Mar. This reversal of the warm and cold season Mediterranean precipitation patterns has allowed invasive plants like cheatgrass to (more…)

Mono Lake’s wet May keeps on keeping on

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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Clouds have covered the Mono Basin for much of the last three weeks. Mono Lake on May 20. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

Clouds have covered the Mono Basin for much of the last three weeks. Mono Lake on May 20. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

A week ago, at mid-month, we excitedly were tallying up the already-record-making Mono Basin precipitation totals for May and the rise in Mono Lake. Who would have thought that it would keep raining and snowing—especially during the driest year of one of the worst droughts on record?

Well, it has kept raining and snowing! (more…)

Wet weather causes Mono Lake to rise

Friday, May 15th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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After the storm clouds cleared last Friday, Black Point had turned white under 14 inches of new snow. Photo by Lisa Cutting.

After the storm clouds cleared last Friday, Black Point had turned white under 14 inches of new snow. Photo by Lisa Cutting.

With May only half over, we have measured almost three inches of precipitation in Lee Vining—surpassing the usual total for all of April-September. This May has already beaten the previous records of 2.23 inches measured in May 1989 and 2.74 inches measured in May 1994. It has also been cold, with over 16 inches of snow already beating the 14.6 inches measured in May 1994. At Cain Ranch, it is already the third-wettest May since 1931.

As Rush Creek above Grant Lake Reservoir nears record-low flows for May, record highs for precipitation are welcome.

A cold May with 400% of average precipitation is very good news for Mono Lake. Reduced evaporation helps slow the declining lake level, and direct precipitation on the lake a week ago raised the level about a tenth of a foot. It now stands at 6379.0 feet above sea level, about a tenth of a foot higher than it was on May 1st. Mono Lake is projected to drop a tenth of a foot this month, but it is now looking like it will remain steady, and it could even have a net rise if the last half of the month is wet.

2015 will be the driest year on record, by far

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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October to March precipitation was 33% of average—driest on record for Lee Vining and third-driest on record for Cain Ranch. The April 1 snow surveys found only 14% of average snow water content in the Mono Basin after a warm March melted much of the already near-record-low snowpack.

Based on precipitation, snowpack, and recent runoff, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) has run its forecasting equations and issued its runoff forecast: 19% of average runoff is expected for April–September, and 25% over the next year—assuming median precipitation falls. 2015 April–September runoff is not only going to be less than 1977, the driest year on record—it is expected to be less than half of 1977’s runoff.

2015 April-September runoff is not only going to be less than 1977, the driest year on record--it is expected to be less than half of the 1977 runoff.

The twelve driest seasons on record in the Mono Basin. 2015 April–September runoff is not only going to be less than 1977, the driest year on record—it is also expected to be less than half of the 1977 runoff.

We are in uncharted territory. It has not been this dry since records began in the Mono Basin. This will be a challenging year for our ecosystems and for water management.

Warm March took snowpack to lowest levels on record; Tioga Pass and Gem Lake have biggest March declines ever measured

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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Yesterday I was refreshing the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Webpage almost every hour. Over and over again I saw the dramatic pattern across the state—higher double-digit percentages at the highest elevations of almost every watershed, and lower or zero snowpack at the lower elevations.

Finally, this morning, the rest of the Mono Basin data appeared! The good news is that the snowpack in most of the Mono Basin isn’t as bad as the 6% of average at Tioga Pass and Saddlebag Lake. The bad news is that with only 14% of average snow water content, the snowmelt runoff will be lower than anyone anticipated.

Gem Pass, at the highest elevation, tops the charts with 25% of average snow water content. Everywhere else, snow surveyors measured the lowest snow water content ever measured on April 1st. Ellery Lake is 21% of average, and Gem Lake is 12% of average. Also in the Mono Basin, but reported under the San Joaquin River drainage, is Agnew Pass, which lost 7.5 inches of water in March, and currently is only 3% of average (1 inch of water content).

Tioga Pass snowpack has a March decline about 13% of the time. Similar years are shown, with average and 2014 shown for comparison.

Tioga Pass snowpack has a March decline about 13% of the time. Similar years are shown, with average and 2014 shown for comparison.

Gem Pass snowpack has a March decline about 17% of the time. Similar years are shown, with average and 2014 shown for comparison.

Gem Pass snowpack has a March decline about 17% of the time. Similar years are shown, with average and 2014 shown for comparison.

The following is a summary of the five Mono Basin snow courses:

  • Gem Pass lost 2 inches of water in March, and at 8.5″ is about the same as 1977, although not as dry as 1931.
  • Gem Lake lost 5.5 inches of water in March, and at 3.5″ is driest on record (beating 5.9″ in 1976).
  • Tioga Pass lost 6 inches of water in March, and at 1.5″ is driest on record (beating 7.4″ in 1977).
  • Saddlebag Lake lost 6 inches of water in March, and at 2″ is driest on record (beating 9.9″ in 1977).
  • Ellery Lake lost 1.5 inches of water in March, and at 6″ is driest on record (beating 9.7″ in 1977).

Tioga Pass snowpack lowest on record at 6% of average

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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As early as late February, it seemed likely that this was going to be the driest year on record. Mono Basin snowpack was lower than any year but 1991, and that year had a “Miracle March” that was absent from the long-range forecasts. Sure enough, the dry pattern didn’t change, and March was very dry.

A low Lundy Lake Reservoir with scant snow on the peaks on March 26, 2015. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

A low Lundy Lake Reservoir with scant snow on the peaks on March 26, 2015. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

On Thursday I began checking the snow surveys web page for the April 1st snow survey results, which are conducted within a few days of April 1st. On Friday, results for one of the five Mono Basin “snow courses” appeared. And it was a shocking result: Tioga Pass snow water content is at only 6% of average. (more…)

Only slight improvement in Mono Basin snowpack in February

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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A late-February weather system kicks up dust devils over Mono Lake. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

A late-February weather system kicks up dust devils over Mono Lake. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

The March 1st snow surveys in the Mono Basin were completed on February 25th, and measured 33% of average snow water content. Even though the snowpack doubled in February, this is only a slight improvement over the February 1st surveys, which found only 23% of average snow water content at the five snow courses where snow is measured. The February 1st surveys, completed at the end of January, found the second-lowest snowpack on record in most places and a record low snowpack at Gem Lake. As of March 1st, the Gem Lake snowpack now ranks the seventh-lowest ever measured (out of 55 years). (more…)

2014 Mono Lake California Gull report available

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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Point Blue Conservation Science has completed its report on the 2014 California Gull nesting season at Mono Lake, which is available on the Mono Basin Clearinghouse.

California Gulls take flight near Negit Island. Photo by Sandra Noll.

California Gulls take flight near Negit Island. Photo by Sandra Noll.

The gull population in 2014 was low. This was to be expected, since 2010 was the year with the lowest reproductive success ever recorded, and the 2010 cohort returns as adults four years later. Due to the decline in lake level, Old Marina Islet became a peninsula, which represents (more…)

The Mono Basin’s backward seasons

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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As an almost rainless and snowless January comes to a close, one can’t help but feeling like the seasons are backwards this year. Lee Vining got 1.7 times more precipitation during June through September than it did since October 1st. Normally precipitation during those four fall-winter months is double the summer months (for an average ratio of about 0.5).

A view of the Tioga Pass Road on January 21, 2015 shows very little snow. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

A view of the Tioga Pass Road on January 21, 2015 shows very little snow. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Looking back at previous years, 1990–1991 also had a high summer to fall/early-winter precipitation ratio of 4.3—in other words, 4.3 times as much precipitation fell in summer as it did in fall/early-winter. Despite a “miracle March,” 1991 was one of Lee Vining’s driest years on record. 1997–1998 also had a high ratio of 1.5, but then it started snowing (like crazy) in February, and ended up being quite a wet year. Those two years pretty much bookend the options for this year—either it is going to start snowing soon, or it won’t.

Summer thunderstorms can be quite variable, so does this pattern match other precipitation stations? Cain Ranch data confirm this pattern with 1990–1991, however 1997–1998 fails. But the longer record at Cain Ranch allows other years to match: 2013–2014 (1.2), 1976–1976 (1.2), 1976–1977 (4.5), 1967–1968 (1.4), 1960 (1.3). These were all dry years, and most are among the driest years on record.

At this point in the year, with these backward seasons, it will be hard just to catch up to average precipitation for the winter.

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