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Mike Stevens' Blog

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Thursday, February 02, 2017
Best winter Sierra trip from hell
Friday, April 28, 2017
Early Sierra Paranoia


An atmospheric river ran through us
Much of the credit for the rainy miracle month goes to a weather phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river.” Long, slithering plumes of highly-concentrated moisture flow via a path cut by high-altitude winds, just like a river on the ground takes the path of least resistance down long-defined channels of rock, soil and sand.

hugedumpsofsierra
HUGE DUMPS OF SIERRA SNOW turned many Mammoth Lakes businesses into igloos. Photo courtesy of Black Tie Skis


There is a lot of scientific jibber jabber that can be detailed here, but the point is, it rained – and snowed – a lot in January. You don’t need me to tell you that. Since the middle of December, even the casual tabs I started keeping on interesting statistics and percentages and records started to get overwhelming, but I kept doing it right through the end of January. So, I went ahead and trimmed the fat, cut out the old ones, and even personally added some factoids to this boiled down list.


•  By Jan. 10, California’s reservoirs held 2 million more acre-feet (enough to cover an acre in a foot of water) of water than they did three days prior. For reference, total water consumption for the entire state over a year is about 40 million acre-feet.


•  Since Oct. 1, more precipitation has dumped into key Northern California areas this winter than any time since 1922. This includes eight zones from Lake Tahoe to Mount Shasta that feed many of California’s biggest reservoirs.


• The rain totals at those eight NorCal stations are more than double the historic average for this time of year, and running about the same as 1982-83 and 1997-98, both rain seasons that were characterized by gnarly El Niño flooding, mudslides, etc.


• With eight months left in the rain season (Starts Oct. 1) San Diego, at 8 inches of rain, is wetter than it’s been since 1850.


• Lake Sutherland (San Diego) rose over 13.5 feet over the last two weeks of January bringing the lake level to 74.7 feet. With a minimum to launch boats at 70 feet, boat launching could very well be available for the first time since 2013 when the lake opens in early March.


• Barret Lake in San Diego went up 20 feet during the storms, and Lake Henshaw, in the far north of the county, doubled from 8- to 16-percet capacity.


• If this glorious deluge stopped cold turkey right now (as it did three Januarys ago), reservoirs are full enough to avoid water shortages in many regions of the state for several years.


• One of the most dramatic reservoir recoveries was in San Luis Reservoir (between Los Banos and Gilroy in NorCal) which was barely hanging on at 10 percent of capacity and is now at 66 percent after rising over 140 feet.


• The San Diego County Water Authority declared the drought officially over in the County on Jan. 26 in a statement that also called on Governor Jerry Brown and the State Water Resources Board to rescind the statewide water-use regulations.


• January 2017 officially became the snowiest January on Mammoth Mountain in history (on the 20th of the month. A few days later, it became the snowies MONTH the mountain ever had… in the post ice-age era, I imagine. That would be 246 inches in one month.


• The following dispatch came from Parchers Resort and South Lake Landing on Jan. 23: After this last storm we've accumulated enough snow in some areas to break a record for the wettest January ever! As of this morning the snow sensor at South Lake is currently at 143 percent of our April 1 average. Yes, you read that correctly - we are at 143 percent of the amount of water/snow we're supposed to have on April 1and we have over two months of winter still ahead of us! This is already the best winter since 2011 so look for all of the lakes and reservoirs in the Bishop Creek Canyon to be full to the brim this summer. In addition to the water levels in the roadside waters, this will no doubt benefit our wildflower season, fall color season and fill up the few hard-hit backcountry lakes as well. Cheers to 2017! We're off to a great start!


• In the Eastern Sierra, chains being required starting just south of Mammoth Lakes is normal on respectable snow days. Several times in the second half of January, the road was completely closed from Bishop to Mammoth, and Mammoth to June Lake. There were also days where chains were required on Highway 395 “down the hill” between Lone Pine and Bishop.


• One of my personal Eastern Sierra contacts is a Mammoth Lakes resident who had to make a run down to Bishop for something. While she was down there, the road closed, and she had to stay in a hotel in Bishop for two days and figure out a way to get her dogs fed.


• Snow water equivalents (snowpack) in the Sierra, when broken up by sections as early as Jan. 24 were 162 percent of normal (as of that date) in the north Sierra, 195 percent in the central and 240 percent for the south. The statewide percent of normal was 197 percent, and 108 percent of what it should be by April 1.


• Flows on the Upper Kern River at Kernville peaked at 18,000 cfs on Jan. 9. Average flows in January are usually around 300-400 cfs, and in spring through early summer when the flows are highest, the average (since 1999) are just over 2,100 cfs. No lake is happier about that than Isabella, which is fed by the Upper Kern and was one of SoCal’s lakes hardest hit by the drought.


• On the Jan. 23, San Jacinto Creek (Canyon Lake to Lake Elsinore) was crankin’ along at 1,470 cfs as water flowed 15 inches over the Canyon Lake Dam. As we all know, Elsinore needs new water as much as any lake, and since November, it’s up almost 4 feet.


• As of Jan. 25, Diamond Valley Lake is at 72 percent capacity, Lake Skinner 86 percent, Pyramid, 90 percent, Castaic, 73 percent.


• Lastly, and this was a personal observation I made just before compiling this list: If you jumped off Interstate 15 into Lake Hodges, you would actually get wet. This after taking in 1,243 acre-feet of water in a month. When was the last time you could say that?


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