Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Fall Update: Tioga Pass closes for the season

The quiet winter season has settled on the Mono Basin, with the Scenic Area Visitor Center closed, Nicely’s Restaurant closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Tioga Pass closed for the season. The Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore remains open 9-5 daily (except certain holidays). With no snow around Mono Lake, the access to visitor sites is good and hiking is still great, although this could change this week as the weather becomes wet. We are about two weeks away from the Winter Solstice and the shortest days of the year.

Highs have been near 40 and lows near 20 with patchy morning poconip fog and very little wind prior to the weekend. On November 20th high winds and the artificially low level of Mono Lake created the worst dust storm ever measured. A peak hourly dust concentration of 62,000 micrograms per cubic meter on the northeast shore of Mono Lake neared the measureable limit for the air quality instruments.

Worst dust storm ever recorded in the Eastern Sierra. 9am shot from the Mono Lake Webcam.
Worst dust storm ever recorded in the Eastern Sierra. 9am shot from the Mono Lake Webcam. Click to enlarge.
November 20th, 2009, 10 am dust storm photo from the Lee Vining Webcam.
November 20th, 2009, 10 am dust storm photo from the Lee Vining Webcam.

A stormy, windy, and wet pattern is starting, with a very cold snowstorm likely Monday, extreme cold Monday night, and warmer but wetter storms possible late in the week–possibly large amounts of snow! Click here for current conditions.

Tioga Pass (Hwy 120) and Sonora Pass (Hwy 108) are closed for the winter-spring. The Bodie Road (Hwy 270) and Monitor Pass (Hwy 89) are closed due to snow. The June Lake Loop is open but is icy in spots and has minor flooding at Silver Lake Resort. Most other roads are open and snow-free. Carry chains and check weather and road conditions before leaving home.

For a second winter, Tioga Pass Resort is closed, meaning Tioga Road from the winter closure gate to Tioga Pass is ungroomed–use caution on the steep slopes dropping into Lee Vining Canyon. Currently snowpack varies from zero at Mono Lake to 2 feet at June Lake to 4-5 feet at Gem Pass. This will change rapidly this coming week with a series of storms that could drop several feet of snow in the Sierra. The snow will probably cover the lakes that currently have good ice skating, such as Silver Lake and Bridgeport Reservoir.

Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, and Bald Eagles are splashing around in Mono Lake. Yes, Bald  Eagles–see our Bird and Other Wildlife Sightings page for the latest bird sightings. The count of Eared Grebes on Mono Lake for mid-October is 530,000 birds–this is about double last year’s count of 200,000-300,000, but this is still very low considering counts from 1995-2005 usually were over a million. The Mono Lake Christmas Bird Count is December 20th.

Mono Lake is still dropping, and currently stands at 6381.4 feet above sea level. Construction is finishing on Mono Gate 1 (the Grant Lake Reservoir outlet) and water export through the Mono Craters Tunnel to the Upper Owens River will resume on Wednesday and ramp up to a rate of about  72 cfs (4300 ac-ft per month). Grant Lake Reservoir is at a peak elevation of around 39,000 ac-ft of storage and will likely decline 10-15,000 ac-ft by April 1st. Click here for real-time streamflows. Click here for Mono Lake level information.