Update for February 13, 2019

February 13, 2019 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New snow: 43 inches
Total settled snow depth: 93 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 35°F (February 13)
Low temperature: -16°F (February 11)

Skier in near white out conditions on Lembert Dome on February 9, 2019.
Skier in near white out conditions on Lembert Dome on February 9, 2019.

Ski Conditions and Weather

It was nice to see the sun for a bit this week. The break in the weather gave us an opportunity to get caught up on building maintenance and roof clearing in our ongoing effort to try and salvage some of the structures here in Tuolumne. There was a storm that brought 32 inches of low density snow to the area over the past weekend. Low temperatures were south of zero degrees Fahrenheit for five of the seven days. Trail breaking became easier with each passing day and the powder skiing conditions were excellent. Slopes in the alpine were certainly more wind effected than in the trees. 

Presently, there is an AR “atmospheric river” event that is bringing heavy precipitation to the Sierra. Currently there is intermittent rain/snow up to 9,000 feet with this much warmer storm.  This will likely put many inches of additional water on a deep, cold, and dry snowpack. As they say if you don’t like these ski conditions, give it a few minutes and it will change. The next five days look to bring a bit of all types of winter weather to the range of light. 

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

In winters like this one, by the time we type anything about avalanche conditions and you read it, they have already changed. That said, this week, aside from the wind loaded areas up high, our snow pack had become quite stable after these two most recent storms. The upper 50 inches consisted primarily of one giant low density storm and is quite homogenous. Although we added another 43 inches of new snow, the settled snow depth did not increase. In fact, this settlement was so pronounced, that on some steep slopes large creep cracks that looked like crevasses had formed.

High winds, high density snow and rain falling on this low density snow will contribute to an increase in avalanche hazard over the short term.  However, over the long term, this will probably contribute to a more stable snowpack.

Creep cracks on slope north of Johnson Peak on February 8, 2019.
Creep cracks on slope north of Johnson Peak on February 8, 2019.


The usual winter avian residents appeared to be enjoying the break in the weather this week: mountain chickadees, brown creepers, Clark’s nutcrackers, a white-breasted nuthatch, and a hairy woodpecker. Once again, the golden crowned kinglets were also seen and heard along the trail to Twin Bridges. How they survive during this exceptionally cold and inclement weather is incredible. Although they are one of the more abundant bird species of the Sierra Nevada, they have either slipped under our radar in previous seasons or are more common here this winter. 

General Information

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows. We can be contacted regarding winter travel to Tuolumne Meadows via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol.

For those visiting the Tuolumne Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the ski hut. For those entering from other areas, visit: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740.

Come prepared, and please make good decisions while travelling in the wilderness!

Happy Skiing!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers

Skier on bridge over the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River on February 8, 2019.
Skier on bridge over the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River on February 8, 2019.

18 Comments Comments icon

  1. Yosemite National Park
    April 11, 2019 at 12:46

    @Ethan, with the amount of snow we got this year, it's unlikely the Tioga Road will be open during your drive on May 13.

  2. Ethan
    April 10, 2019 at 10:30

    Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas May 13 around noon on 5/13. Any chance Tioga pass will be opened? If not, any recommendation about where to spend the night in between that has a bit of nature... maybe an alternate route to Monterey? Thanks

  3. Tuolumne Winter Ranger
    February 17, 2019 at 12:14

    Hi everyone, we've been getting a lot of questions regarding campground and road openings. There is no way we can predict what the rest of the winter and spring will bring temperature and/or snow wise. But, you can make an educated guess by reading some of the park's historical data. Please refer to the park website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm. You can also follow the California Department of water resources websites for snow data information: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecstation2/

  4. Laura
    February 17, 2019 at 11:57

    Hi Clark, Excellent question; complicated answer if there truly is one: Those creep cracks are a result of the sudden strain or stress of the over 6 inches of water and 100 inches of snow (wind loaded and new snow fall) on those slopes that week. During that time, the avalanche danger was high. In fact, there were large natural avalanches on the adjacent slopes from that storm. However, avalanche hazard is very dynamic and weather driven. Those cracks are just one of many observations that help us determine (or guess!) avalanche hazard. Those cracks do indicate that the snow did have time to settle and is possibly more stable temporarily, many days after the storm. Later in the season, in theory, these slopes could be subject to glide as well (where the forces of gravity cause the entire snowpack to slide downhill) which is a different phenomenon. See: Snow Weather and Avalanches: Observation Guidelines for Avalanche Programs in the US by the American Avalanche Assoc & USDA Forest Service Natl Avalanche Center, AAA copyright 2010 for more info.

  5. Denise
    February 16, 2019 at 10:13

    Thank you for your updates each week. I read with fascination, wishing that I had the skill and knowledge to use one of those 8 bunks!!

  6. Rachel
    February 16, 2019 at 06:45

    Great reporting. Keep it coming!

  7. Georgina Pelz
    February 16, 2019 at 04:46

    Thanks for the info. How does this compare to 2 years ago when the High Sierra Camps were not opened for the season? I've got passes for this summer and wonder what the odds are of the camps not opening again. Any predictions or know when those types of decisions are made? Thanks!

  8. Brenda
    February 16, 2019 at 11:39

    Absolutely wonderful reporting and pictures. My family and I truly enjoy the reports.....Thank you so much for letting us see our favorite place on earth during a time of year that we cannot be there :) As absolutely beautiful as all of the images are.....I'm starting to get that sinking feeling that our annual Tuolumne Meadows July camping trip is in jeopardy :( In 2017 opening was August 1 :( Stay safe, and thanks again.

  9. George
    February 14, 2019 at 05:52

    Hi Laura and Rob. Thank you for the updates. It looks like a government shutdown will be averted, so I look forward to your continued posts on Tuolumne Meadows and the region. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the atmospheric river event is perfectly timed due to the cold storms earlier in January and first week of February. As you mentioned, water content is all important to the spring runoff, especially in the Mono Lake watershed, which is minimal compared to other watershed areas. I'm hoping that Saddlebag Lake can fill this winter, and spill this spring and summer. Please keep us posted on the status of Saddlebag Lake. Thank you very much!

  10. George
    February 14, 2019 at 04:16

    Hi Laura and Rob. Thanks again for these updates. It looks like we'll avoid another government shutdown, so we'll keep getting your reports. Hallelujah! Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the timing of these atmospheric rivers could not be better timed with the cold snow that has fallen previously! As you mentioned, water content for spring runoff is so important, especially for Mono Lake since its watershed is so minimal compared to other bodies of water destinations. I desperately want Saddlebag Lake to fill this winter and spill this spring and summer. Please keep us posted on this lake. Thank you very much!

  11. February 14, 2019 at 04:08

  12. Terry
    February 14, 2019 at 03:41

    Hi Rob and Laura Any word on the snow loads on the Tioga Road from Lee Vining? Thanks.

  13. Carolyn
    February 14, 2019 at 10:29

    I love reading your reports, thanks for all you do!

  14. Moose
    February 13, 2019 at 11:53

    We are so fortunate to have these rangers posted deep in the high country! An in-depth view of the terrain and conditions is incredibly valuable in any sort of trip planning. Thanks to Laura and Rob for their passion and diligence!

  15. Dale
    February 13, 2019 at 10:38

    I appreciate the reports on the wildlife, especially the birds. It is amazing how they can survive those harsh winter conditions at that elevation.

  16. Jim
    February 13, 2019 at 10:01

    These updates are awesome. Thanks for posting them and allowing Yosemite fans to enjoy the vicarious experience. Stay safe.

  17. susie
    February 13, 2019 at 09:01

    ABSOLUTELY Breathtaking!!!! The images are of content so dear to my heart. Thank you Rob and Laura, (and to our son, who told us about your fabulous website photos and observations. He described them as 'surpassing the quality of Galen Rowell '..... )

  18. Clark
    February 13, 2019 at 06:28

    Thanks for the report from snowy Tuolumne! Do those creep cracks in the snow indicate higher avalanche danger in those areas? I am amazed that you are getting some rain up at that altitude in the middle of February. I'm also glad to see from the forecasts that more snow is heading your way over the next several days, although I'm sure you both would appreciate a break! Hang in there and thanks again for giving us this glimpse of the high country in winter.

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Last updated: February 13, 2019

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