New snow: 8 inches at 8,600 feet;16 inches above 9,500 feet
Total settled snow depth: 10 inches as of February 11, 2015 (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 49°F (February 5)
Low temperature: 22°F (February 5)
Skiing Conditions and Weather: Well, we got the precipitation we had been waiting for this week; unfortunately it mostly fell as the liquid kind. We recorded 8 inches of new snow and an impressive 2.64 inches of water at our weather station here at Tuolumne Meadows between Friday night and Monday morning. The atmospheric river event was a warm one even for the high country. We even had four hours of thunderstorm (not thunder-snow) activity from 8 pm until midnight on Sunday! You have to go above 9,500 feet to get above the rain line from the two storms. Above 9,500 feet, the new snow amounts are more like 16+ inches, and the settled snow depth is 41 inches, on average. On north-facing slopes, the skiing is quite good presently, but as always, conditions are dynamic and ever changing with the weather. Coverage improved dramatically with the wet snow that fell and with settlement will provide for fine cross-country skiing in the flats and gentler terrain. Except for the north aspects mentioned above, finding turns is still pretty limited due to the shallow snowpack, and in many cases bare ground, that existed on all other aspects prior to this week's snowfall.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the avalanche advisory for this area of the Sierra Nevada go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center and click on advisory. The ESAC site is undergoing changes this season and is not regularly updated as in past seasons, but it still posts relevant observations.
With over two and a half inches of water, the snowpack received a good test load. No natural avalanches were observed the day after the storm cycle in the Tuolumne Meadows area. However, closer to 10,000 feet on north-facing aspects loud "whoomphing" or the collapsing of old faceted snow mid-pack warned us to stay off of steeper terrain for the time being. This settling was even visible with the naked eye! With the forecast sun and warm temperatures this week and with all the water that has percolated through these snow layers, the snowpack should quickly become more stable. Lower in elevation the faceted sugar grains are already more cohesive.
Lee Vining Canyon had no snow in any slide path east of, but not including, Gaylor Peak prior to this storm cycle. Therefore, we would consider the Highway 120 corridor in Lee Vining Canyon low avalanche hazard. But, expect some rocks to move with the freezing and thawing of all this water! Our travels have not taken us near the Sierra crest since the conclusion of this storm, so we cannot speak of the snow stability in that area.
Wildlife: Dark-eyed juncos, brown creepers, mountain chickadees, and red –breasted nuthatches gathered in flocks during the rain storms and appeared to be constantly foraging. Clark's nutcrackers and common ravens were also active at the slightly higher elevations.
Questions: The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open! There is an ample supply of firewood and 10 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is power but no public phone service in Tuolumne Meadows this winter. We can be contacted via email at Robert_Pilewski@nps.gov, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns. Come prepared;don't count on electricity or phone service at the ski hut.
Laura and Rob Pilewski -Tuolumne Winter Rangers (R. Pilewski)