Two weeks ago, Bryant and I visited Yosemite National Park in the California Sierras for the second time in my life. The first time was exactly two years ago, in February 2014 (read my blog post about it here). Back then, California was in deep drought, and Yosemite was dry and fairly warm, without a speck of snow to be seen. This time, things were very different.
As we drove into Yosemite National Park, there wasn’t a single place I looked where there wasn’t water. Every possible waterfall was flowing steadily – Yosemite Falls was absolutely gushing – and the roads were partially flooded with water. In fact, the Valley had been closed several days prior due to flooding, and had just reopened.
We camped in the Valley that night, and while they hadn’t received fresh snow in a few days, there was still packed snow on the ground and tons of excess water and puddles everywhere it had melted. I was grateful for my rain boots as we schlepped our stuff to the campsite. Before we went to bed, we saw the full moon rise behind Half Dome, backlighting the snow that was being blown off of the north face by the wind.
The following day, we went on a 7-mile snowshoe hike to Dewey Point, which is an overlook with a gorgeous view of the whole valley. The hike itself was a gorgeous stroll through a winter wonderland: soft pillows of feet-deep snow covered the winding creek beds, and the evergreen leaves sparkled with a dusting of white. As we reached Dewey Point itself, every mountain in sight had a healthy dose of powder.
On our way out of the Park on Sunday evening, we stopped to watch Horsetail Falls, a tiny sliver of water trickling down the mountainside next to El Capitan. Mid-to-late February is the only time of year where the sunset light hits it perfectly, illuminating the water stream in red light for a moment. We weren’t quite there on the day when it seems to erupt into flames, but we got a good sense of it.
This winter, California has experienced an extraordinary amount of precipitation. All season, huge storms have swept through the state, catching many citizens by surprise, especially in the south. Last Friday, for example, Los Angeles experienced more rainfall in twelve hours than it had for the previous eight months. This has had many positive effects – all but two of the state’s major reservoirs are now above their historical averages, and snowpack has mirrored the increased rainfall, which creates positive prospects for spring and summer water supply.
This graphic shows the relative states of drought in California in 2015 and now.
While these storms have ended the drought in many parts of the state, they have also wreaked havoc on communities. In many areas, there has simply been too much rain, causing flooding like that in San Jose last week and damage in waterways like the Oroville Dam spillway, among other impacts. Living here, it certainly feels like we’ve gone from one extreme to the next.
Climate change is partially responsible for the weird weather that California, and many other parts of the country, have been experiencing recently, and its contribution to these extreme weather events is likely to grow. In this era of great change, it’s crucial that we invest in our communities and pay attention to weather impacts on a short-term scale, but keep the long-term effects and trajectories ever-present in the backs of our minds.
*All photos in this post were taken by Bryant Irawan.