Stretching along the eastern edge of the state, the Sierra Nevada region incorporates more than 25 percent of California’s land area and forms one of the world’s most diverse watersheds.
It features granite cliffs, lush forests and alpine meadows on the westside, and stark desert landscapes at the base of the eastside. Wildlife includes bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bear and mountain lions, hawks, eagles, and trout.
The majority of total annual precipitation – in the form of rain and snow – falls in the Sierra Nevada. Snowmelt from the Sierra provides water for irrigation for farms that produce half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, and also is a vital source for dairies, which have made California the largest milk producer in the country.
In addition, Sierra snowmelt provides drinking water to Sierra Nevada residents and a portion of drinking water to 23 million people living in cities stretching from the Bay Area to Southern California.
A series of late-season storms has vaulted this winter into the history books, making it the wettest winter for California’s northern Sierra Nevada in nearly a century of record-keeping, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Not only will this week’s incoming storms be packing their usual grab bags of mischief for Northern California – widespread and heavier precipitation, winds gusting up to 30 mph, snowfalls dropping from 5,000 to 3,500 feet – but the systems appear to have their hearts set on breaking one big thing: The all-time wettest water year on record for the Northern Sierra, the most important source of water for the entire state.
As big snowflakes fell high in California’s Sierra Nevada on Thursday, surveyors on snowshoes measured the deepest springtime snowpack in years and said it boosted concerns about destructive floods when all that snow melts.
The biggest blizzards are over. But as state water officials head into the Sierra Nevada on Thursday for the annual April 1 snowpack reading — the most important of the year for planning summer water supplies — California still has a huge amount of snow covering its highest mountain peaks, an avalanche that has buried the state’s punishing drought.
The muddy ski slopes of 2015 paired with the powder-covered ones of 2017 show the astonishing difference between a year when snow levels were drastically low and this season when unrelenting storms slamming the northern Sierra Nevada are burying the ski lifts on a weekly basis.
The depressing scene of boat docks sitting high and dry on wide beaches around Lake Tahoe will likely be a fleeting memory this summer. Winter’s unrelenting storms built up a substantial Sierra snowpack and are expected to fill the lake for the first time in 11 years.
Plunging the long, metal rod into the snow beneath his feet in the mountain town of Phillips, state snow survey chief Frank Gehrke measured the Sierra Nevada snowpack Wednesday not against California’s recent, historic drought but against its biggest rain years.
Top scientists announced in January that last year was the hottest year on record — an announcement they’ve made three years in a row, with 2014, 2015 and now 2016 each being declared warmer than the previous year.
Clambering through a snowy meadow with drifts up to the tree branches, California’s water managers measured the state’s vital Sierra Nevada snowpack Thursday at a drought-busting and welcome 173 percent of average.
Roaring storms that brought California almost a year’s worth of snow and rain in a single month should make state water managers’ Sierra snowpack survey Thursday a celebration, marking this winter’s dramatic retreat of the state’s more than 5-year-drought, water experts say.
On Thursday, officials with the state Department of Water Resources are scheduled to escort reporters up to a Phillips Station, a meadow off Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe, for the monthly manual snowpack reading.
The ponderosa pine had taken root decades before the Revolutionary War, making a stately stand on this western Sierra Nevada slope for some 300 years, Nate Stephenson figures. Then came the beetle blitzkrieg.
The first manual survey this year of California’s snowpack revealed Tuesday that it holds about half as much water as normal, casting a shadow on the state that’s hoping to dodge a sixth straight year of drought, officials said.
Around the start of each year, California water officials make a big show out of measuring the Sierra Nevada snowpack for reporters. Tuesday’s measurement before a throng of cameras was fairly bleak: Water content in the snowpack stood at just 53 percent of average, about a third as much water as the same time last year at that site.
Surveyors will plunge poles into the Sierra Nevada snowpack near Lake Tahoe on Tuesday, taking the season’s first measurement by hand of the snow’s water content as California flirts with a sixth year of drought.
ARkStorm stands for an atmospheric river (“AR”) that carries precipitation levels expected to occur once every 1,000 years (“k”). The concept was presented in a 2011 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) intended to elevate the visibility of the very real threats to human life, property and ecosystems posed by extreme storms on the West Coast.
The Sierra Nevada is getting soaked this year, and Lake Tahoe is one of the biggest beneficiaries. The sixth-largest lake in the United States, which straddles California and Nevada, reached its natural rim after weekend storms dumped 12.5 billion gallons of water into the lake.
In the 1950s, California wildlife authorities used to fly over remote lakes and creeks in Yosemite National Park and deliver precious cargo: hatchery-raised trout. The policy was great for fishing enthusiasts.
Several environmental groups returned to their natural habitat in the courthouse on Wednesday in hopes of securing Endangered Species Act protections for the Pacific fisher, a mink-like creature found partly in California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains.
Snow fell Monday in the Sierra Nevada’s higher elevations, where a weekend storm dumped several inches of fresh snow overnight. Snow was also reported Monday at Lassen Volcanic National Park and on Mt. Shasta.
Four years into the drought, bark beetles did what was expected of them in the conifer woods of Tuolumne County. They bored into the trunks of moisture-stressed pines, cutting off the trees’ nutrient flow.
When naturalist John Muir explored Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park about 150 years ago, the river of ice stretched as far as 10 football fields between the peaks of the Lyell Canyon, a glacier one might expect to see in Alaska, not California.
A native California frog once on the brink of extinction is making an encouraging comeback in Yosemite National Park, raising hopes for amphibians like it worldwide that are dying off at an alarming rate, researchers said Monday.
President Barack Obama, fixed against a pristine backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, issued a forceful defense Wednesday of his administration’s policies to address climate change, warning that rising temperatures could lay waste to decades of conservation efforts at Lake Tahoe and throughout the United States.
Standing beneath the forest-green peaks of the Sierra Nevada, President Barack Obama drew a connection Wednesday between conservation efforts and stopping global warming, describing the two environmental challenges as inseparably linked.
The White House on Wednesday announced a series of new funding and environmental programs to address the deteriorating health of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding forests caused in part by the increasing temperatures brought about by climate change.
At a conservation summit on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, President Obama on Wednesday pointed to the environmental degradation of the lake’s once-crystal-clear waters as proof of the damage caused by climate change and warned of the threat posed by Republican leaders who continue to deny its existence.
Owens Lake is a dry lake at the terminus of the Owens River just west of Death Valley and on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. For at least 800,000 years, the lake had a continuous flow of water, until 1913 when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) completed the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct to supplement the budding metropolis’ increasing water demands.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality. Join us as we head into the foothills and the mountains to examine water issues that happen upstream but have dramatic impacts downstream and throughout the state.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has stuck to its guns and is designating 1.8 million acres of mostly public California land as habitat critical for the preservation of the Yosemite toad and two frog species peculiar to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Two types of yellow-legged frogs, and a kind of toad found in Yosemite National Park, won extra protection Thursday when federal authorities declared nearly 3,000 square miles in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains as critical habitat for the endangered animals.
The leaves atop giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are better at storing water than those closer to the ground, an adaptation that may explain how their treetops are able to survive 300 feet in the air, researchers at American River College and Humboldt State University have found.
Another Memorial Day came and went this year, but the marina at Meeks Bay Resort didn’t open for a third straight season — this time due to a high concentration of pollutants, an issue that apparently has been a concern for more than a decade.
It has been a scene playing out daily in the Sierra this spring and now summer: Cal Fire firefighters cutting down trees and thinning out parts of the forest in the wake of an unprecedented crisis, the deaths of 66 million California trees, said Edwin Simpson, a forester with Cal Fire.
The number of trees in California’s Sierra Nevada forests killed by drought, a bark beetle epidemic and warmer temperatures has dramatically increased since last year, raising fears they will fuel catastrophic wildfires and endanger people’s lives, officials said Wednesday.
The California drought is carving an unprecedented path of ruin through Sierra forests, killing trees by the millions and setting the stage for a potentially devastating wildfire season that’s already burning homes and closing freeways in the southern half of the state.
A lethal combination of drought, heat and voracious bark beetles has killed 26 million trees in the Sierra Nevada over the last eight months — an alarming finding for a state already raging with wildfires fueled by denuded landscapes and desiccated tinder.
California’s drought and a bark beetle epidemic have caused the largest die-off of Sierra Nevada forests in modern history, raising fears that trees could come crashing down on people or fuel deadly wildfires that could wipe out mountain communities.
A type of frog made famous by Mark Twain will soon be hopping and swimming through California’s Yosemite National Park after a decades-long absence, officials said Wednesday. … This is the latest effort to restore native animals to Yosemite.
In another sign of the warming climate, key species of trees in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range — including lodge pole pine, red fir and western white pine — are shifting to higher elevations in search of cooler temperatures, a broad new study by state biologists has found.
Nevada’s wildland firefighters are readying themselves for a treacherous fire season in months ahead. That’s because a multi-year drought interrupted by El Nino moisture created conditions that cranked up the risk of wildfire in both the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin.
California’s “frozen reservoir” is melting fast. Unusually high temperatures this spring have acted like a blow-drier on accumulated winter snows, despite a healthy boost during the stormy month of March.
When the Tahoe Keys were created in the 1960s they became Lake Tahoe’s largest commercial marina. … It’s possible that no one could have foreseen that those warm, shallow channels would one day be home to Tahoe’s most dense population of invasive species.
Once bathed in deep green, the forests in the foothills and Sierra east of the San Joaquin Valley are increasingly turning reddish-brown as drought- and beetle-weary trees die by the month. … Local and state officials want the ponderosa pine’s territory, generally above 3,000 feet in elevation, declared a federal disaster area.
Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity took a hit last year in part due to California’s fourth consecutive year of drought. … With spring snowmelt continuing, the lake is currently 2 inches above its rim and has begun spilling over into the Truckee River for the first time since October 2014.
A growing network of cameras trained on the forested mountains around Lake Tahoe is changing the way crews fight Western wildfires by allowing early detection that triggers quicker, cheaper, more tactical suppression than traditional war-like operations, experts said Wednesday.
Scientists say the Sierra’s eastern front is long overdue for a large earthquake along the California-Nevada line, where a magnitude-7 event expected on average every 30 years hasn’t occurred in six decades.
Attorneys for the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, Friends of the West Shore and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency appeared in front of a three-judge panel at the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, April 12, for oral arguments in an ongoing dispute regarding the TRPA’s 2012 Regional Plan Update.
Among firs and cedars high in the Sierra Nevada, scientists are using an array of instruments to monitor the health of the forest, measure the snowpack and track the water that melts and seeps into the soil. … Already, as the winters have grown warmer, the snow has been melting earlier after storms pass.
We were gliding downhill along a river buried in snow, our skis skimming a thin layer of fresh powder toward the setting sun and a wall of darkening clouds. … In California, snow isn’t just for skiers.
Don’t give up on that season ski pass just yet, Tahoe locals. The Monday morning powder dump that disrupted commutes in Reno served as an exclamation point for the 2015-16 season which is likely to be the longest in more than a decade.
The Sierra snowpack is actually below the historic average, but skier visits, hotel stays and the number of people spending money in the Lake Tahoe area are way up. It’s a welcome turn from last year, when the drought left resorts virtually empty.
The northern Sierra has seen nearly double the average precipitation since the beginning of March. It may seem hard to believe after such a dry February, but some of California’s largest reservoirs have approached flood operations.
An unwelcome three-week winter dry spell left the California snowpack at just 83 percent of average, a setback for the state as it tries to break out of record drought, state snow surveyors found Tuesday.
SACRAMENTO –The statewide snowpack – source of much of the California’s water supply – is only 83 percent of the March 1 average, the result of moderate precipitation since last October and relatively warm temperatures.
Any sign of precipitation in the forecast is a welcome sight for Californians these days. But with temperatures expected to be above normal this winter, California’s snowpack may not reach the heights it could.
Money from a controversial “fire prevention” fee paid by many California foothill and mountain residents will be used to cut down trees that are dead or dying because of the drought and bark beetle infestation.
Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the California Department of Water Resources, says the snowpack measurement was 130 percent of average at Phillips Station off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road.
After four years of drought and the arrival of great snow conditions, a high-end crowd is arriving at Tahoe for the ski season and driving up prices across the board, topped by peak events like the Super Bowl and the holidays.
Tuolumne County has received a $70.4 million grant to restore part of the Rim fire zone, build a plant that turns wood into energy and building materials, and create a center for job training and other services.
A series of storms passing over Northern California are expected to drench residents in rain and dump up to 2 feet of snow on the northern Sierra Nevada, a precious water resource the state relies on in the spring, the National Weather Service said.
After taking the measurement and leaving a path of boot prints in his wake, Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, told a group of tightly bundled reporters that the snowpack was “encouraging, but still obviously not where we’d like to be.”
It’s shaping up as the biggest snowstorm to hit the central Sierra in two years. … After four years of drought, its reservoirs are dry: Folsom Lake last week hit its lowest point since record-keeping began 40 years ago.
This is Bean Meadow in Mariposa County in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The [Sierra Foothill] Conservancy has embarked on a project to return 39 acres back to what it once was, before people built roads and ditches and turned it into ranchland in the 19th century.
Thanks in part to El Niño, a series of strong storms have blanketed the Sierras with snow. Another storm this week is expected to deliver another layer of the white stuff — and draw skiers back to resorts.
A massive storm, reaching across about half of the state, is expected to move in Tuesday and peak Wednesday, where it will drop up to 18 inches of snow on mountain summits from Shasta County and Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, said Nathan Owen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
Should El Niño not live up to the hype and dump heavy snow on the Sierra, skiers and sledders at one resort could be gliding downhill this winter on snow that comes from an unusual source: purified water from the local sewage-treatment plant.
The atmosphere on the ski slopes around Lake Tahoe was giddy this week as beleaguered resort operators planned their earliest opening in years, a response to November storms and cold temperatures that allowed them to supplement nature by making snow.
With portions of the Tahoe region reporting 465 percent above the average snowpack following the first winter storm of the season, Monday, Nov. 2, it’s clear the Sierra Nevada is in for a winter for the ages. Right?
Lamenting “the worst epidemic of tree mortality” in the state’s modern history, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday sought federal aid to remove dead trees from California forests and called for more controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Giant Sequoias growing in California’s Sierra Nevada are among the largest and oldest living things on earth, but scientists climbing high up into their green canopies say they are seeing symptoms of stress caused by the state’s historic drought.
Armed with evidence captured by surveillance cameras, California regulators have ordered a business to stop tapping Sierra Nevada spring water that is later bottled and sold in stores, officials said Wednesday.
The lawmakers convening Monday for a major Lake Tahoe conference confront a Capitol Hill conflict over how best to protect the much-beloved mountain region. They differ over money, environmental laws, timber harvesting and more.
When elected officials from California and Nevada meet Monday for the 19th annual Lake Tahoe Summit, much attention will be given to the clarity of the lake and protecting the unique basin environment. Part of the discussion must include the health of our national forests and their associated watersheds.
The Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America’s treasures. But for the first time in the parks history the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought: thin and browning leaves.
More than 10,000 acres of scenic meadows, forests and trout streams in the Sierra Nevada 10 miles west of Lake Tahoe have been preserved in a deal in which environmentalists hope to prove that thinning out overgrown forests can increase California’s water supply.
Fish concerns will force Tulloch Lake to drop sooner than water agencies had announced in a milestone spring accord, while construction work meant to ensure that 7,000 people won’t run out of water for drinking and fire protection has not yet begun.
Frank Cody wasn’t surprised to learn that at least 12 million trees across California recently have died from a lethal mix of bugs and long-term drought. Business is booming for the South Lake Tahoe tree service business owner.
During the July 4 weekend, the U.S. Forest Service issued urgent instructions to hikers and campers to be exceedingly cautious in lighting campfires across California’s tinder dry Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Californians trembled two years ago as 200-foot flames from the Rim fire sent up pyrocumulus clouds visible 100 miles away from the central Sierra Nevada. Burning from August to October, it left a charred footprint nearly the size of Los Angeles — a reminder that the state had just passed through two dry winters.
As California’s prolonged drought dries up irrigation supplies for agriculture and forces cutbacks in urban water deliveries, it also creates opportunities for prospectors and miners panning, sluicing, chiseling and diving for gold.
Lawsuits from environmental groups are snagging badly needed efforts to log forests in California’s fire-prone Sierra Nevada mountains, lawmakers and witnesses told a House of Representatives subcommittee Thursday.
When Andy Wirth became the CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Resort in November 2010, he did so amid a precipitation-laden winter that saw enormous snow loads give skiers at Lake Tahoe plenty of coveted powder days.
The peak of the Lake Tahoe wildflower season is typically somewhere around the middle of July, but, with remaining snow melting away and water in scarce supply, area blooms are off to an early start and may not last long.
South Tahoe Public Utilities District’s (STPUD) hope to have mandatory water reductions reduced drowned on April 17 when the State Water Resources Control Board released revised numbers of California’s water districts.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reversed the government’s proposed federal protection for a type of sage grouse specific to California and Nevada on Tuesday, and said it shows it’s still possible to head off a bigger, looming listing decision for the greater sage grouse across 11 western states.
The fourth year of the devastating drought that has dried up wells, forced mandatory rationing and jeopardized California crops has also put a burden on backcountry skiers in search of their powdery fix.
The Sierra snowpack is a ghastly one-fifth the size of the smallest one ever recorded in the mountain range, state leaders said Wednesday as California’s storm season ended in disappointment for the fourth straight year. … Gov. Jerry Brown, who watched a snow measurement Wednesday at Lake Tahoe, announced the state’s first mandatory water reductions, aiming at cutting water use by 25%.
Standing in a dry brown meadow that typically would be buried in snow this time of year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered the first mandatory water cutbacks in California history, a directive that will affect cities and towns statewide.
We are officially in uncharted territory. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which typically supplies nearly a third of California’s water, is showing the lowest water content on record: 6 percent of the long-term average for April 1.
The water frozen in snow throughout the Sierra Nevada is 8% of average — less than a third the size of the smallest on record. On Wednesday when this disappointing wet season ends, the headlines will be the next alarm bell in the state’s damaging, four-year drought.
With the state entering its fourth year of drought, some conservationists are looking at thinning Sierra forests to increase the amount of water that flows into area rivers. … On Friday, the Association of California Water Agencies also released its own report that calls for better headwater and forest management – and for better collaboration among federal, state and other agencies, and other stakeholders.
The Lake Don Pedro community is operating in emergency mode. For the last several weeks, work crews have drilled well after well, hoping to find groundwater. … Lake McClure depends entirely on rain and snow runoff from the Merced River watershed.
Levels at Sierra reservoirs that supply water for 1.3 million East Bay customers are as low as they’ve been in nearly 40 years, and it could take a miracle to make them better before the onset of the long dry season, officials were told Tuesday.
With a fourth year of drought looming, state and federal agencies have launched an ambitious partnership to improve the Sierra’s ability to store and filter water, as well as reduce fire risks, by restoring its forests. Called the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program …
Had it not been for a couple of days of snowfall during the weekend, the ground would have been bare, Frank Gehrke of the Department of Water Resources said Tuesday during a snow survey at Philips Station near Sierra-At-Tahoe Road.
Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are at or below what they were during the driest years in California’s recorded history, surveyors said Tuesday, dashing hopes that last weekend’s storm would begin to pull the state out of its increasingly frightful drought.
California received a double dose of bad drought news on Tuesday, with state officials saying the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is far below normal and that residents again aren’t coming close to meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a 20 percent cut in water use.
Water consumption statewide declined just 8.8 percent in January compared with the same month of 2013 – far below the state’s goal of 20 percent – according to data presented to the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday.
A storm system heading to Northern California may bring only a fraction of an inch of rain to the Bay Area, but skiers and snowboarders turned desperate by the drought are stoked after learning that nearly a foot of fresh powder could fall in some parts of the Sierra.
This is the fourth lousy winter season in a row for the ski industry, and it has been economically devastating for the area. Some of the smaller resorts are barely hanging on, while larger players are carving out new ways to turn a profit.
While residents’ efforts to conserve water are helping, officials say locals must continue such practices as a multi-year drought grips California and other western states with no immediate relief in sight.
I [Kevin MacMillan] moved to the Tahoe in July 2007, meaning this is my eighth winter* here. “Winter” has an asterisk next to it because even I know, with my meager experience here, that what we’re currently enduring is (hopefully?) some sort of anomaly.
Because of the lack of snow depth, the U.S. Forest Service has asked snowmobile users in the Lake Tahoe Basin to avoid bare dirt and patchy snow, and not to ride across streams or over small trees and brush.
Today, snow sensors scattered through the Sierra, satellite imagery and aerial flybys augment the 106-year-old “manual survey.” The technology helps to provide a clearer update of California’s water conditions that water agencies depend on to perform the increasingly crucial job of managing our diminishing water supply for the rest of the year.
Traditionally California’s wettest month, January’s meager rainfall has produced a miniscule improvement in the crucial winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada that historically provides about 30 percent of the state’s water needs.
The latest survey of California’s mountain snowpack on Thursday brought the bad news slamming home: This month will rank as the driest January in state history at many locations, virtually assuring a fourth straight year of drought. On Thursday, the statewide snowpack was 25 percent of normal for the date.
As California caps what may be its driest January on record, Frank Gehrke will lead a bevy of surveyors on Thursday to a predetermined spot on Echo Summit in an exercise that has become a monthly downer in the documentation of the state’s historic drought.
A popular cross-country ski area near Lake Tahoe has temporarily closed due to a lack of snow, and forecasters say the lingering drought should persist or get worse in the months ahead across most of California and Nevada.
The 862-acre mountain that rises to 8,200 feet — a relatively small site by California standards — was the latest in two days to ground operations as January temperatures climb to near-record highs and weeks pass without wet weather.