Tuolumne Meadows Update for January 3, 2024

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Update for January 3, 2024
January 03, 2024 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski
New Snow: 3 inches
Settled Snow Depth: 5 inches
High Temperature: 46°F (December 29)
Low Temperature: 4°F (December 31)  

Tuolumne River on December 31, 2023
Tuolumne River on December 31, 2023.
December Weather Summary
New Snow: 11 inches (historical average 55.6 inches)
Snow Water Equivalent: 1.84 inches (historical average 4.40 inches)
Average High Temperature: 43.5°F (historical average 40°F)
Average Low Temperature: 16.8°F (historical average 10.3°F)
Average Temperature: 30.15°F (historical average 25.5°F)

Ski Conditions and Weather
A few minor weather disturbances came through the Sierra Nevada this week and left a skiff of new snow and colder temperatures in their wake. The snowpack remains well below average for this time of year, but the ski conditions for touring along the Tioga Road and in the meadows and drainages are still quite good.

Snowline to the east starts at the Warren Fork (9,000 feet). From there, westward into Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass, snow travel equipment is highly recommended. One holiday visitor reported deep post hole conditions above 9,000 feet in the Cathedral Range down to Yosemite Valley. Other visitors reported good ski touring and respectable coverage in forested drainages of the Cathedral Range.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and the Bridgeport Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisories for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

The avalanche hazard is low in the Tuolumne Meadows area. The shallow snowpack will need more loading by new snow or wind for the hazard to increase. Obstacles are the primary hazard.

Dr. James E Church standing on snow with snowshoes draped over his neck.
Dr. James E. Church Jr. with snowshoes draped over his neck in 1908.
History of Snow Surveys
In 1935, Congress formed the Federal-State Cooperative Snow Survey, now known as Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Dr. James E. Church, Jr. is known as the “Father of Snow Surveying.”

Starting as far back as 1908, Church established a series of snow courses on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe to forecast lake level rise and fall so that the Truckee River General Electric Company could make informed decisions on how much or little water should be released from the dam along the Truckee River at the outlet of Lake Tahoe. It was a delicate balance to both be able to maintain enough electricity for the local paper and sawmills but not flood lakeshore beachfront property. Yet, with his “primitive” calculations, he was able to predict within 10% the amount of lake level rise. “He calibrated his forecasts by comparing his measurements against fluctuating levels of the lake. His method proved so useful it quickly spread across the West” (Miller), “…snow surveying had been validated…and the nascent science of snow hydrology” had been born. (Rose)

The Sierra Nevada winter of 2022-2023 went down as the deepest and wettest in recorded history. What will 2023-2024 bring?

As part of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program, Yosemite National Park employees will continue the legacy of Dr. James E. Church’s snow survey program.

Wildlife
This week we saw numerous places where coyotes had juked back and forth, pounced, and then dug in the shallow snowpack looking for a treat. Even winged predators left their impression behind in the snow while feasting on what appears to be an abundance of rodents. Although there hasn’t been much new snow to cover up old tracks, there seems to be a boom especially with regards to the mouse population as their prints have been found in every nook and cranny of these forests and meadows.

Left image: Mouse tracks in snow; Right image: Wing prints in snow.
Left image: Mouse tracks on December 29, 2023; Right image: Wing prints on December 31, 2023.
Questions
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. This primitive cabin is the campground reservation office in the summer and is located along the Tioga Road at the entrance to the campground. It is marked with a sign. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those visiting the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the Ski Hut. For those entering from other areas, please see Yosemite’s website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildfaq.htm#winter or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity and limited phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.

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

Read through the following three pages before embarking on any day or overnight snow travel within this park:

Wilderness in Winter

Winter Safety

Snow Travel Tips: Weekly posts from January through April 2022

You may contact us with any additional winter Tuolumne Meadows related questions but response times may vary if we are away on patrol.

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