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The Sierra snowpack is larger than it has been in [ 72 ] years

PigsDad

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As I mentioned, I grew up in Minnesota, but I've lived in the western US since 1974. Driving in the snow in the Midwest and the West is totally different. And driving in the snow is far more treacherous in the West than in the Midwest, IMO. The major differences I see are:
  1. Snow in the West is much wetter and slushier. In Midwestern winters, when it snows the ground is frozen and the snow is usually powdery. So it doesn't stick. It drifts, and the biggest hazard often isn't snow on the road; it's drifting snow that obscures the road so you can't tell where the lane markers and the edges of the pavement are. In contrast, in the West snow is generally wetter, and it falls on ground that isn't frozen. That melts the snow and creates a slush layer on the roadway. That creates much trickier driving, particularly increasing the hydroplaning hazards, because tires don't shed slush as easily as they do water. If weather continues to be cold, then snow starts accumulating on top of the slush and the slush layer starts to turn to ice. So now you have snow on top of ice, which is much more treacherous.
  2. In much of the West, the roads are hillier and steeper. And because snow is much rarer, roads aren't designed with the same consideration for snow and ice as is done in the Midwest.
  3. Drivers in the West are far less accustomed to driving in the snow. So the hazard isn't the snow, it's the other people driving cars.

As another person who grew up in Minnesota and now lives in Colorado, this is a good explanation of the differences. I would also add that most people don't realize that when the temperature gets really cold (I'm talking sub-zero F), snow covered / packed roads really aren't that slippery or hazardous. Certainly, you need to drive cautiously, but when it gets that cold you have quite good traction so driving normal highway speeds of 50-60 mph on solid snow pack can actually be safe.

Kurt
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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PigsDad

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So when this all melts in the upcoming weeks, what happens? Are we going to see a bunch of mudslides, taking multi-million dollar homes down to the sea?

Kurt
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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So when this all melts in the upcoming weeks, what happens? Are we going to see a bunch of mudslides, taking multi-million dollar homes down to the sea?

Kurt
Not likely - the multi-million dollar homes on landslides are located in coastal areas, where there isn't any snow. They might still have landslides, but those would be related to recent rains, not melting snowpack. Those landslides occur when rainfall percolates into subsurface soils and rocks, where the saturated soils increases the overburden pressure while simultaneously lubricating slippage zones in the subsurface.

Any interesting generalization - in areas with tilted sedimentary rock formations (which is typical of most of coastal California west of the San Andreas), the steepest hillsides are usually the most stable. (This doesn't apply in canyons.) It seems counterintuitive at first blush, but it makes sense, The reason the hillside is steep is because it doesn't slip. Those hillsides are usually on the up-tilted side of bedrock. It's the downtilted sides of the bedrock that are prone to failure.

I applied that principal in buying our houses in both Contra Costa County in the Bay Area and King County in the Puget Sound Region.
 
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rickandcindy23

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So when this all melts in the upcoming weeks, what happens? Are we going to see a bunch of mudslides, taking multi-million dollar homes down to the sea?

Kurt
Kurt, I was thinking of the Big Thompson Canyon flood and how it wiped out so many homes along it's banks. That was I think summer of 1977. Maybe before your time because my oldest son was a baby.

Several years ago, we had some friends that had some flooding that threatened their cabin in Winter Park when it rained and the snow melted too fast.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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Kurt, I was thinking of the Big Thompson Canyon flood and how it wiped out so many homes along it's banks. That was I think summer of 1977. Maybe before your time because my oldest son was a baby.
Big Thompson Canyon was a completely different kind of flood.

Big Thompson Canyon was a result of thunderstorms moving down the east side of the Colorado Front Range. When rainfall happens in a mountain canyon, there is a certain time period ("concentration time") between when rainfall occurs and when the resultant runoff reaches the stream in the bottom of the canyon. In the case of Big Thompson, a thunderstorm formed and moved down the canyon, but for much of the time the rate at which it moved downed the canyon was in synch with the that rainfall concentration time. The result was that as the storm moved down the canyon there was a continual swelling of the water volume in Big Thompson Creek, leading to an enormous flash flood.

This is not at all an unknown phenomenon. There are dry canyons in the mountains of the Mojave Desert where the is flood debris situated on the canyon walls 50 to 100 feet above the canyon bottom. The only apparent explanation is that on occasion there must be flood waters 50 to 100 feet deep in the canyon. And the only plausible way that could happen is a thunderstorm concentration event such as I described above. Might happen once in a thousand years, and maybe less often. But the evidence indicates that it does happen.

Somewhat like Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Just because a Cat 4 gulf coast hurricane had never stalled over a coastal area, doesn't mean a stalled Cat 4 hurricane wasn't a credible event.

IMO - in public policy planning for weather events, we need to focus less on what has happened during the historical record, and start thinking more about what could reasonably happen. In engineering parlance, this is designated as the Maximum Credible Event.

In my familiarity, the only arena where I see Maximum Credible Event used is in earthquake and seismicity planning - and even then it isn't used consistently In climate activities, it's hardly used. If you use Maximum Credible Event, events such as Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Sandy, SW USA drought, current CA snowfalls, etc., are predictable rather than "unprecedented".
 

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There is a limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. When that is exceeded, the water just flows to the sea or the Nevada desert where it evaporates.

That is untrue The reservoirs on the Sierra Nevada stream systems are among the largest in relation to stream flow in the world.

The long-odds rain-on-snow event showed up and water is being released from reservoirs for flood control. The water is flowing to the sea.


"To make room for more water, state and federal officials who manage California’s major dams and reservoirs are releasing water. Some will flow into the ocean — which aggravates many water managers, Central Valley legislators and growers, who often say freshwater that reaches the bay or ocean is wasted. However, efforts are underway to divert much of the released water into depleted groundwater storage basins.

On Wednesday, the Department of Water Resources increased outflow of water from Oroville from about 1,000 cubic feet per second to 3,500 cubic feet per second. By Friday, total releases could be as high as 15,000 cubic feet per second, according to Ted Craddock, deputy director of the State Water Project."
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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Yep - this is shaping up as one of the occasional years in which runoff (in volume and timing) will exceed reservoir capacity requirements. Off the top of my head, I would guess than any river basin in which storage is less than 250% of normal seasonal runoff will be making early season releases.

The surprise to me is that CA needs to write or modify some rules to allow irrigation districts to send that water to growers so that they can do fallow irrigation for groundwater recharge (conjunctive use). That is such a no-brainer; many eastside San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts had been doing that for years when I was doing some work in CA water rights; that was before "conjunctive use" was even coined as a term.
 
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T_R_Oglodyte

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I wonder if Buena Vista Lake (in Kern County) might temporarily reappear?
 

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Here's a reality check image I saw on Facebook today:

Screenshot 2023-03-14 at 10.59.21 AM.png


Dave
 

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@DaveNV Wow! That photo is amazing...I am currently here in Lake Tahoe. We were at the summit of a ski area yesterday and the large map sign which shows the ski runs at the top of the lift (probably 15 - 20 feet to the pole top) was completely buried. I've never seen so much snow here.
 

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@DaveNV Wow! That photo is amazing...I am currently here in Lake Tahoe. We were at the summit of a ski area yesterday and the large map sign which shows the ski runs at the top of the lift (probably 15 - 20 feet to the pole top) was completely buried. I've never seen so much snow here.

I'm not a skier, but I lived a long time in Washington State near a number of ski resorts. This picture above is pretty incredible.

dave
 

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LOL...perhaps they can turn that lift into a rope tow? :D
 

CO skier

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Although I also don't like to see water wasted, not all lost. Salmon and San Juaquin Delta smelt also need water. Populations have been decimated in recent years which has impacted commercial fisherman off the California coast. It's not just farmers who were impacted.

 

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There is a lot of water flowing to the sea in California. 30,000 cubic feet is the size of a 3-story building. That is the per second release from just one dam.

Such a waste. I posted about this a few weeks ago and it got deleted as being political.
 

CO skier

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There is a limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. When that is exceeded, the water just flows to the sea or the Nevada desert where it evaporates.
That is untrue The reservoirs on the Sierra Nevada stream systems are among the largest in relation to stream flow in the world.
This is a video of what happens when the "limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt" is exceeded, and the water flows to the sea:

 

T_R_Oglodyte

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This is a video of what happens when the "limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt" is exceeded, and the water flows to the sea:

This is an extreme year. Outside of perhaps the Colorado River Basin, the Sierra Nevada rivers have a very high ratio of reservoir storage volume to average runoff. If you want to say that Sierra Nevada water storage is "limited", then you would need to extend that premise to say that most watersheds have puny storage. When I moved from CA to WA in 1973, I was surprised at how little storage volume the Cascade reservoirs had in relation to stream flow. Pretty much, every watershed in WA and OR depends on annual year flows, with little capacity for carryover from year to year.
 

rickandcindy23

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As another person who grew up in Minnesota and now lives in Colorado, this is a good explanation of the differences. I would also add that most people don't realize that when the temperature gets really cold (I'm talking sub-zero F), snow covered / packed roads really aren't that slippery or hazardous. Certainly, you need to drive cautiously, but when it gets that cold you have quite good traction so driving normal highway speeds of 50-60 mph on solid snow pack can actually be safe.

Kurt
Rick is a confident driver of our Toyota Avalon. He never slides in that car. He passes a lot of people in these heavy snows. We drove back home to Denver from Colorado Springs in a heavy snow storm, but the traction was great with the heavy snow. He kept plowing along. Meanwhile, I had to laugh at the people who were going 20 MPH in the slow lanes. He remained in the left lane and was able to keep us going pretty decent speeds. It is not that hard for Rick. Remember that he drove a Denver Fire Department pumper for 36 years.
 
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