Mountain Town News: Will Donner Pass set new record for precipitation? (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Will Donner Pass set new record for precipitation? (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

DONNER PASS, Calif. — It's official now that this winter has been the wettest one on record in the northern Sierra Nevada. Not necessarily the snowiest, but the wettest.

The Associated Press and others reported that an index of eight sensors showed just under 90 inches of precipitation had fallen as of last Thursday, besting the record of 88.5 inches set in the winter of 1982-83. The average is 50 inches, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

But precipitation includes not just rain but also the water in snow. At the Central Sierra Snow Lab, located along Interstate 80 near Donner Pass, about 45 feet of snow (1,380 cm) had fallen this winter as of last Thursday. Since 1946, when record keeping began, there have been 10 snowier winters. But precipitation was another matter: 2,748 millimeters, or 108.19 inches as of last Thursday. That's 9 feet of water. The only wetter winter was in 1982, reports Randall Osterhuber, resident scientist at the lab.

This snow, in particular, has made for some nasty driving. The Los Angeles Times tells about Kelley Bernard, who was assigned by the U.S. Postal Service to staff the post office at Soda Springs-Norden, near Donner Pass. She lives 30 miles and 4,300 feet lower in the foothills west of Sacramento.

Unaccustomed to putting on chains on her family van, it took her 45 minutes just to finish one tire the first time she had to do so. Now, she can slap chains on both wheels in less than 7 minutes.

This giant year of snow comes after a so-so year and then, before that, some winters of intense drought. Together, they constitute extreme cycles of dry and wet years — and, says the LA Times, they appear to be intensifying over the last three decades.

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The shift has coincided with increases in California temperatures that scientists say began about 1980.

But even among climate scientists, some remain skeptical that the extreme swings between drought and deluge can be attributed to the warming temperatures.

After all, they say, humans have been recording rainfall and the snowpack for a relatively short time. "I think the evidence is not very conclusive. But this surely bears watching over the coming years," said Dan Cayan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

One major question before California — and ultimately other Western states, too — is whether the existing water infrastructure will serve a future of greater weather extremes. For example, will more dams need to be built and the levels of existing dams raised for the extended years of drought?

House band going strong after 2,500 performances

JACKSON, Wyo. — One patron of the Stagecoach Bar has a simple formula for knowing who the locals are on the dance floor. "You can tell when the people on the floor are locals: Nobody bumps into each other," says Horton Spitzer, a long-time rancher in the valley called Jackson Hole.

The bar is located in Wilson, a hamlet about 10 miles from Jackson near the turnoff to Teton Village and the world-known Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The bar opened in 1948 and since 1969 has had a house band — conveniently called the Stagecoach Band — performing on Sunday nights.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that the band now has 2,500 performances under its belt. Only one member of the band, banjo player Bill Briggs, remains from the original ensemble.

For some locals, going dancing at the Stagecoach amounts to religion. "I go to church in the morning and church in the evening," Barb Conitz says of her Sunday rituals.

Total solar eclipse already has attention of officials

PRINEFVILLE, Ore. —In central Oregon, public officials long ago circled Aug. 21 on their calendars. That's the day the moon will fully block the sun for 1 hour, 15 minutes in a rare celestial coast-to-coast swath across North America.

The Bend Bulletin points to astronomical charts that say there will be only four occurrences visible coast to coast between 1901 and 2099.

Central Oregon will be one of the best places to see this rare total solar eclipse because it is so unlikely to be cloudy. The eclipse will also be total in Idaho, at Triumph and Sun Valley, then also Driggs and Victor, then across the Teton Range in Jackson Hole and, at the foot of the Wind River Range, Lander.

Oregon's Crook County officials tell the Bulletin that the population of the region is expected to double as people from California and Oregon's often-cloudy Willamette Valley drive over the Cascade Range for this celestial rarity.

The officials fear human-caused fires during a dry time of year and an increase in trash on public lands.

Snow at Jackson Hole nothing short of amazing

JACKSON, Wyo. — Meteorologist Jim Woodmencey reports that by almost any snowfall metric, ski season was nothing short of amazing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

One metric is total snowfall from Oct. 1 to April 1: 560 inches, second best in the historical record (there are some gaps, though). But in terms of settled snow depth in the ski area's Rendezvous Bowl, this would go down as a record winter, he says.

Big snow and lots of skiers seem to go hand in hand

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The correlation between snow depths and skier visits isn't very complicated, and it is found again with the report from Whitefish Mountain Resort.

The ski area got 407 inches for the season, the second most in the last 20 years, reports the Whitefish Pilot. It also saw 346,000 skier days, narrowly besting the record of 345,000 set just three years ago.

Black lobo looking for pals loped into a rough neighborhood

BANFF, Alberta — The death of a black wolf that wandered from the sanctuary of Banff National Park across the Continental Divide into British Columbia says something about the danger to pioneering wolves.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook explains that a 2-year-old black male collared with a GPS device trotted 500 linear kilometers (310 miles), even dipping south of the U.S.-Canada border into Glacier National Park, before coming into the scope of a hunter's rifle near Golden, British Columbia. Killing wolves is illegal in Canada's national parks, but outside the park it is legal.

Steve Michel, the human-wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park, said he was not surprised that the wolf had been shot. If anything, he said, he was surprised the wolf survived even a few weeks outside of a protected area. "I was expecting, unless he was able to establish himself in another protected area, he wouldn't have a long period of survival," he told the Outlook.

Wolves are organized into social units called packs, but those packs are constantly in flux. Lone wolves will disperse in search of other packs or at least other females. The pack the black wolf left in Banff now consists only of an alpha male and a daughter, most likely a sibling to the male who was shot. Last year, it had been a much larger pack, but four pups were killed on train tracks and wildlife biologists killed the alpha female and another female who had been bold around humans.

Michel told CBC News that he expects the pack in Banff National Park, called the Bow River Valley pack, to stabilize as wolves from elsewhere join it.

"Wolf populations are very dynamic," he said. "The size of the pack is constantly changing, just as we talk about this wolf dispersing, there's other wolves from other packs in other areas that are dispersing that might come and join in to the Bow Valley pack as well."