CBS News Logo Sierra Nevada snowpack lowest in 500 years

The snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range - a key source of water for the state - is lower than it has been in the past 500 years. Higher temperatures and lower precipitation have combined to melt the snowpack, which on April 1 was 5 percent of the historical average from 1951 to 2000. The next lowest snowpack recorded was back in 1977. The findings, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, show just how bad things have been this past year. "We knew the snowpack was the worst over the last 80 years and now we know it's the worst over the last 500 years," University of Arizona's Valerie Trouet, who along with several colleagues conducted the study, told CBS News. "This is as bad as it's been. It makes this a very extreme event." Snow accumulates in the Sierra until April, when it starts to melt. For Northern and Central California, this melting snow is critical to everything from its agriculture sector to its reservoirs. So, the record low snowpack has further exacerbated a historic drought across California that is in its fourth year and prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to institute draconian water conservation measures. "The snowpack is really important in California because of the Mediterranean climate. There is no precipitation in the summer. The only time they are going to get precipitation is those winter months," Trouet said, adding that places like Arizona get some relief in the summer thanks to monsoon rains. "In a climate system like that, it's important to have a natural storage system which is what the snowpack is," she continued. "It allows you to store that extra water that falls during the winter and access that water when the snow melts and there is no rainfall elsewhere." Trouet and her colleagues had been studying the climate in California for several years. When they heard about the April snowpack reports, they went to work. They combined previously released NOAA temperature data from tree rings and then gathered data from 1,500 blue Continue Reading

Nature up close: Sierra Nevada, Death Valley and the rain shadow effect

By “Sunday Morning” contributing videographer Judy Lehmberg. The beautiful Sierra Nevada’s name translates very literally from Spanish as “mountain snowfall,” meaning snow-covered mountains.  The reason why the peaks are snow-covered and why hot, dry Death Valley is east of the Sierra Nevada range is the same: They are both the result of the rain shadow effect.  To understand how this terrain-induced meteorological effect causes precipitation to occur in one place and dry, hot deserts in another, a little knowledge of relative humidity is needed. The Earth’s atmosphere contains water molecules in the gaseous state, and these create pressure; the more water molecules, the greater the pressure. The higher the temperature, the greater maximum amount of water the air can hold, and therefore higher vapor pressure. The relative humidity is defined as the ratio of vapor pressure present divided by the maximum vapor pressure at that temperature. When the weather reporter says the relative humidity is a muggy 75%, this means the water vapor pressure in the air is 3/4 of the maximum possible at that temperature. Dew, rain and snow often are stripped from moist air when the dew point is reached. For example, suppose the air temperature is T1, and the vapor pressure is about 2/3 of the maximum vapor pressure at that temperature; if the air is cooled, then at some lower temperature (T2), the vapor pressure of water in that air would be maximum, and dew, rain or snow may form. As warm moist air is deflected upwards by mountain ranges, the air cools, its capacity to hold water decreases, the saturation point is reached, and water begins to be stripped from the air as dew, rain or snow on the windward side of the mountain. After passing the top of the mountain, this cold, dry air begins to descend. As it descends, it warms. The relative humidity drops to a low number and the air acts like a giant hair dryer on the leeward side of the Continue Reading

7-foot snowfall expected in Sierra Nevada Mountains as rain hits California

As the East Coast faces a nor'easter, in the West, eight states from Washington to California are under winter and flood alerts due to a major storm moving through the area. Seven feet of snow is forecast for Northern California's Sierra Nevada Mountains and even up to a foot of snow is possible in the mountains around Los Angeles. Already, the Sierra Nevada Mountains has seen 2 feet of snow and winds gusting over 100 miles per hour. In Montecito, California, where up to 2 inches of rain is possible, 22,000 residents left their homes under a mandatory evacuation order. Eighty-seven percent of residents in the "extreme risk area" evacuated, Santa Barbara County officials said Friday morning. Santa Barbara County's mandatory evacuation order has since been lifted. The area, officials said, saw a rate of slightly more than half an inch of rain per hour. "The worst of the storm has passed and we are cautiously optimistic that due to a significant amount of pre-storm preparation we have come through this with minimal impact," Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, said in a statement Friday morning. "Crews are currently completing an assessment of all roads, debris basins, the condition of utilities and other public facilities for damage or impact." Meanwhile, further north, three inches of rain fell from Oregon to Northern California with reports of flooding in the San Francisco Bay area. The rain, heavy at times, will continue in Southern California through Friday afternoon. Continue Reading

7-foot snowfall expected in Sierra Nevada, Southern California faces evacuations

As the East Coast faces a nor'easter, in the West, eight states from Washington to California are under winter and flood alerts due to a major storm moving through the area. In Montecito, California, where up to 2 inches of rain is possible, 22,000 residents have already left their homes under a mandatory evacuation order. Flash flood warnings are currently in effect. Three inches of rain fell from Oregon to Northern California with reports of flooding in the San Francisco Bay area. Seven feet of snow is forecast for Northern California's Sierra Nevada Mountains and even up to a foot of snow is possible in the mountains around Los Angeles. Already, the Sierra Nevada Mountains has seen 2 feet of snow and winds gusting over 100 miles per hour. The rain, heavy at times, will continue in Southern California through this afternoon. Continue Reading

In the Sierra Nevada, they’re putting the trees to work

By CALmatters | January 24, 2018 at 5:24 pm By Julie Cart, CALmatters This is going to be a big year for one of the state’s smallest agencies. As California redoubles its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, officials are rooting around for new ways to meet the state’s goals. Included in their plan: recruiting billions of redwood, oak and pine trees to help diminish planet-warming gases by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s a major pivot, from regulating harmful emissions solely from factories and cars to calling on nature to pitch in. Officials say 2018 is the moment for the state to harness, and fully measure, the role forests can play in addressing the pressing problems of wildfires and the dangerous releases of carbon that occur when millions of forested acres burn. Both issues are accelerating in alarming, parallel lines. A good bit of the work will fall to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of 10 conservancies within the state’s Natural Resources Agency. The group—two dozen multitasking scientists, biologists and planners in a nondescript office park in Auburn, an old gold-rush town in the Sierra foothills—was born in 2004 with a mandate nearly as vast as the region. Like the state’s iconic coastline, the Sierra Nevada mountains are a defining feature of California, rising sharply to dizzying elevations, topping out at Mount Whitney’s 14,500 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. The range, tracing the spine of the state across 22 counties from the Oregon border to deep inside the Mojave Desert south of Bakersfield, holds most of California’s forested land and is the source of 60 percent of the state’s drinking water. The conservancy is charged with restoring the Sierra’s environmental and economic health, on a modest $4.5 million annual operating budget derived entirely from the environmental license-plate fund. The bulk of its work, such as facilitating research and Continue Reading

Backpacking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada range is tough but rewarding

The most arduous endeavors often have the biggest payoffs. That’s how it is with backpacking the John Muir Trail. The 210-mile wilderness trek in the Sierra Nevada range of California, named for Scottish naturalist John Muir, takes a toll. One climb after another — up and down mountains with altitudes ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet — taxes your leg muscles and breathing. Shoulders strain from shlepping 25- to 35-pound packs. Weather issues range from snow to rain to hail to heat and cold. But the rewards are legion — pristine alpine lakes, gorgeous meandering rivers and streams, coyote and marmot sightings, lots of wildflowers, and the feeling of traveling in the untamed natural world — surviving and actually thriving without a cell phone. A complete hike of the popular trail, from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, can take three weeks or more, so many opt to do sections at a time. That’s what I did late this summer — accompanied by my wife and 19-year-old son. I did about 80 miles over eight days, starting at Tuolumne Meadows. (I’d been inspired by the Cheryl Strayed memoir “Wild.”) Stopping at Yosemite and staying a day or two is a good way to acclimate yourself to the altitude. The Park is a national treasure, with a zillion backcountry things to do (climbing, hiking, riding, fishing, rafting, etc.) and mind-blowing scenery. We stayed a day at Yosemite Lodge and a day at Tuolumne Lodge. The tent cabins at Tuolumne featured wood burning stoves and wool blankets on the beds. (It gets chilly at night, even in late July.) Starting out, we had it “easy” — seven or eight miles along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, the only lengthy level area on the trail. Then, the climbing began as we went over Donohue Pass, and began the up and down that marks most of the time on the JMT. The first few days were, in truth, tough: Continue Reading

Hiker lost in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains gets rescued after spelling ‘HELP’ on ground with pine needles (VIDEO)

A hiker lost in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains with no food or water for five days was rescued after he spelled out "HELP" in pine needles. Mike Vilhauer, from West Sacramento, was picked up by a rescue helicopter after the pilot spotted his 10-foot SOS on the ground. Now back at home, the retiree revealed he'd driven up to Wet Meadows Reservoir in Alpine County last Wednesday for a quick fishing trip. But he got lost as he walked into the woods searching for crickets to use as bait. "I just couldn't find anything to catch," he told CBS Sacramento. "In the meantime I'm jig-jagging up and down the ridges." Stranded, and all alone, he made a shelter out of pine needles to keep warm as night fell. For the following four days, he desperately tried to retrace his steps. "Every time I'd walk up one ridge and go up the mountain, I'd think, 'There's the lake.' And there would be nothing," he said. On Friday, search and rescue teams started looking for the exhausted senior. But they kept missing him, which led Vilhauer to decide to stay in one place - and write out his request for salvation near a stream. "A couple of choppers kept going by and I thought this is not good, because usually after they finish one area, they move to the next," he told CBS. "I made these big 8 to 10 feet letters 'HELP' in pine needles,” he added. Finally, some 48 hours later on Sunday afternoon, a helicopter crew spotted his sign and he was picked up. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Nevada woman rescued by brother after becoming trapped in Sierra Nevada Mountains with boyfriend for six days

A Nevada woman who went missing in the snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains for six days was found by her own brother while she was crawling along a road looking for help. Paula Lane, 46, and her boyfriend, Roderick Clifton, 44, had been missing since Nov. 29. Clifton died in the snow going for help after the two became stuck when they decided to pull off the highway and go off-roading in a remote region of Alpine County near Highway 88, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The two were coming from visiting Clifton’s relatives in Sacramento County and were headed back home to Gardnerville, Nev. Alpine County authorities said Clifton wanted to test out his new Jeep Cherokee in the snow and became stuck in the mud a few miles down a dirt road on Thursday night. The two did not have cell service and spent the night in the car. The next morning, Clifton decided to go for help, the Chronicle reported. Lane begged him not to go. Roderick Clifton via Facebook/KCRA Roderick Clifton, left, was found dead after going missing for about a week in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Paula Lane was found by her brother crawling along a dirt road near Highway 88 in Alpine County, Calif. Dreamstime Above, the Sierra Nevada mountains. Authorities said Clifton drove off the highway and wanted to test out his Jeep Cherokee in the snow when the pair became stuck.  Three days later, he had not returned, and Lane set off on her own in a last-ditch effort to be rescued. She crawled past Clifton’s frozen dead body while trying to make it to a cross-country ski hut the two passed on the way in, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the pair were reported missing by their families on Saturday. Lane’s brother knew his sister went camping in the area and began searching the mountain roads in a front loader vehicle. He found her crawling in the road on Wednesday at around 8:30 p.m., authorities said. KCRA The couple in an undated Continue Reading

Sierra Nevada ‘beer camp’ recruits Bayou Teche

Ask most any serious beer drinker what their dream vacation would be and they’d answer “To be given a name tag that I can hang around my neck that would allow me to drink as much free craft beer as I wanted for three days.”Bayou Teche Brewing was recently selected to collaborate with four other southern craft breweries at the brand spanking new Sierra Nevada brewery near Asheville, North Carolina. We were invited to contribute to Sierra Nevada’s project called “Beer Camp.” Inspired by rock ‘n’ roll super groups, the legendary brewery teams up with 30 other talented breweries divided into six regional super groups.Sierra Nevada, along with these bands of brewers, will create an all-new mixed pack of beers that showcases the art, spirit and attitude of American craft beer – and then release the collaborative beers in 12 packs. Besides Bayou Teche, the other southern breweries were Funky Buddha from Florida, Austin Beer Works from Texas, Creature Comforts from Georgia, and Wicked Weed from North Carolina.Those are four of the most exciting and imaginative breweries set in the South. And Sierra Nevada has long been known as crafters of some of the best beers brewed in America, and perfectionists for quality both in their ingredients and processes.I arrived at my hotel, and checked in. Along with my room key I was given a Sierra Nevada name tag and lanyard. “Don’t lose this,” said the young lady at the desk, “because while you are at the brewery you can show this at any of the bars at Sierra Nevada and you’ll get a free beer.”She was not lying – and there are a lot of beer bars in and outside of the new brewery. And Sierra Nevada brews a LOT of different beers. I, however, only have one liver.The nice folks at Sierra Nevada sent a bus to pick all of us up. It was still pretty top-secret which breweries were selected, so when I got on the bus and saw a veritable who’s Continue Reading

Nearly $2 billion worth of marijuana seized in California’s Sierra Nevada range

Sorry, stoners.California cops said they seized and destroyed $1.7 billion worth of marijuana during a three-week sweep in the Sierra Nevada range, according to the BBC.In addition, 97 people – mostly Mexican nationals who authorities believe are involved in a drug ring – were arrested.President Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said industrial-sized plantations of marijuana that was being illegally grown were discovered in the mountains. Dubbed "Operation Trident," about 450 agents destroyed more than 432,000 marijuana plants and confiscated nearly 500 pounds of processed cannabis.Margaret Mims, Fresno County sheriff, said the fields jeopardized the safety of local residents."They continue their criminal conduct during their off-season with other illegal drug and violent activities in our local communities," Mims said, referring to organized crime gangs. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading