It’s still early but the latest signs keep pointing to the development of an El Niño condition later this summer and into next winter, which could have big implications for California’s drought and the Sierra snowpack.
Above-average sea surface temperatures continue to develop over much of the eastern Pacific. In April these temperatures were near to slightly above average and increasing. A strong oceanic Kelvin wave that began in early January is pulling a pool of warm water from near Indonesia in the Western Pacific toward North America, increasing ocean water temperatures in the region of the tropical Pacific that is key to Nino watchers. This wave and the resulting change in temperatures is reminiscent of the spring of 1997, which foreshadowed a major El Nino-influenced storm season the following winter. Winds and thunderstorm activity in April also were consistent with a transition to El Niño, although officially conditions remained in a neutral phase, neither El Niño or La Nina.
Forecasters expect ocean temps to officially reach the El Niño stage by late summer if no sooner, and between now and then the forecast for next winter should become clearer. A weak El Niño would not necessarily mean much for Tahoe and the Sierra. But a strong condition would mean an increased likelihood of a wet winter for the Sierra.
May 8 2014
From the Ca Department of Water Resources:
“As California’s dry weather pushes into the new year, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced that its first snow survey of the winter found more bare ground than snow.
Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of average for this time of year. That is a mere 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack normally is at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs to provide a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.”
Tahoe’s air quality took a turn for the worse today after a few days of improving conditions.
Although the American fire outside Foresthill is 60 percent contained, the Rim Fire near Yosemite is now sending smoke into the Tahoe Basin.
That fire, moreover, is just 1 percent contained and had already burned 100,000 acres. Gov Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in the surrounding counties.
There’s no projection yet on when the blaze might be contained.
From UC Davis:
While clarity improved at Lake Tahoe for a second straight year in 2012, long-term trends show that climate change is impacting the Lake Tahoe Basin with drier years, less precipitation, higher lake temperatures and projected lower lake levels.
These conclusions are found within the lake’s annual health exam, “Tahoe: State of the Lake Report 2013,” released today by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at the University of California, Davis.
UC Davis researchers have been continuously monitoring Lake Tahoe’s clarity, physics, chemistry and biology since 1968. This long-term data set helps inform and measure progress toward Tahoe’s restoration goals.
In addition to clarity, algae and weather data, this year’s report describes new research that assesses the impact of 21st century climate change trends on the lake; uses an autonomous, underwater glider to examine water quality across the lake; and measures not just clarity, but the quantifiable “blueness” of Lake Tahoe along the color spectrum.
“Every year brings surprises, but with them come new insights,” said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “In this last year we saw how nature, combined with the results of the many projects that have been completed in the basin, produced an amazing increase in clarity. The real challenge is to be able to sustain the improvements when nature is working against us.”
The annual average clarity improved by 6.4 feet over the previous year to 75.3 feet. (Clarity data for 2012 was released in February 2013 and is repeated in this report.) This value is within 3 feet of the interim clarity target of 78 feet. The improvement occurred in both summer and winter. The reasons for the improvement include:
- 2012 was a dry year for Lake Tahoe, with precipitation 71 percent of the long-term average. Reduced precipitation resulted in fewer pollutants flowing into the lake.
- The absence of deep mixing. Each winter, surface waters cool and sink downward, mixing with deeper waters. This brings nutrients to the surface, promoting algae growth, while also moving oxygen to deep waters, promoting aquatic life. A lack of deep mixing can contribute to warmer lake temperatures.
- Reduced numbers of tiny Cyclotella algae in 2012. An abundance of the microscopic algae over the past five years has been linked to climate change and coincided with reduced summertime clarity.
Year-to-year fluctuations in lake conditions are normal, which is why TERC researchers note that long-term trends are a better indication of lake health.
Clarity is measured by the depth at which a 10-inch, white Secchi disk remains visible when lowered beneath the water’s surface. When the long-term measurement program began in 1968, the Secchi disk could be seen down to 102.4 feet.
While 2012 was not considered an unusual weather year at Lake Tahoe, consequences of climate change could be seen:
- Annual average surface temperature was 52.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest ever recorded for Lake Tahoe.
- Snow has decreased as a fraction of total precipitation, from an average of 51 percent in 1910 to 36 percent in 2012.
- A continued long-term trend of fewer days with below-freezing temperatures caused snowmelt to peak on May 4, earlier than historical conditions.
- Lake level experienced a net loss in 2012. It rose by only 1.3 feet during the snowmelt, compared with 3.9 feet in 2011. During summer and fall, lake level fell by 2.3 feet.
The report also describes a study published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Climatic Change and co-authored by TERC. The study looked at a range of scenarios to project climate change impacts at Lake Tahoe through 2100. Among the key findings:
- Air temperature increases as high as 10 degrees Fahrenheit;
- Decreased amounts of precipitation falling as snow, which could reduce water storage in the spring snowpack;
- Dramatic increases in flood magnitude;
- Loss of habitat from oxygen depletion caused by extended periods without deep mixing.
In new research, valuable tools are beginning to provide fresh insights into the processes that drive change in Lake Tahoe. An underwater glider that operated in the lake for 11 days in May 2013 provided the first “snapshots” of water quality across an east-west transect. The data confirmed the presence of giant “internal waves” deep in the lake that could move algae and pollutants vertically over 150 feet.
Possibly more important was the installation of a water-quality monitoring station in 360 feet of water off the west shore. Connected to shore by an underwater cable, this station provides data from top to bottom every 30 seconds. This is the first such station in any lake worldwide and is expected to provide a better understanding of climate change impacts on Lake Tahoe.
“Some of the new technologies that are being used at Tahoe, combined with participation from talented collaborators from around the world, are not only providing us with new knowledge of the inner workings of our lake, but also teaching us how to sustain freshwater ecosystems globally,” Schladow said.
The first time we ate at Morgan’s Lobster Shack, downtown Truckee’s new fish house and fresh fish market, we forgot to take pictures of the food – because we were so eager to eat it.
We weren’t disappointed.
The food tasted as advertised – fresh. Everything was packed with flavor, and tasted like it was prepared from scratch and made to order. Fresh fish in Truckee. Who knew?
We started with the lobster mac ‘n cheese, which came with a generous helping of Maine lobster, house prepared bacon, a fontina cheese sauce and pasta. It was surprisingly light, with all the ingredients melding to near perfection. A touch of salt in the preparation would have sealed the deal, but that’s quibbling.
Our second entrée was the California lobster roll. It came with large chunks of lobster, a touch of mayonnaise and avocado stuffed into a small grilled bun and dusted with a hint of sriracha sauce. The bun was plain white bread – New England style. Morgan’s might consider offering an earthier version more in tune with California cuisine and packing a bit more oomph.
The roll came with two sides, and we chose the homemade chips and the coleslaw. The chips didn’t knock us out. We were expecting light, super thin potato slices but got thick ruffles instead. They were fine, but they were the only item we tried that didn’t scream “home made!” The slaw was a delight, however – a little cup of carrots and cabbage in a tangy marinade, no mayonnaise.
Feeling gluttonous after a day of swimming and biking, we also ordered a side of fresh salmon cakes that were some of the best fish cakes we’d ever eaten. The salmon was smoked and the breading was just thick enough to cover the fish, and no more. They were so light they seemed to be floating over the bed of greens that came with them. The lemon aioli on the side was a perfect complement.
Our final item was the kale and spinach salad, which came topped with parmesan and a lemon garlic dressing. We gobbled up the ample serving.
Some other items that tempted us but will have to wait for another visit: fish and chips, sea scallops, wild shrimp and fried clams. And of course the house’s namesake, fresh Maine lobster.
The tab for this feast of fish came to just under $50 – a hefty bill for a cafeteria-style lunch but, considering the extra side orders and the freshness of the product, not out of line with North Tahoe prices.
Morgan’s owners, Shawn and Heather Whitney, are both from New England, and Heather comes from a long line of Maine lobstermen. Shawn moved to Tahoe 12 years ago and worked in the restaurant industry along the North Shore and in Truckee for years until he decided that his craving for fresh fish, shared by many friends, was not going to be satisfied unless he took matters into his own hands.
So he rented a refurbished historical building on West River Street and spent about a year preparing to open the restaurant and fish market. The style is very informal, with patrons ordering at the counter and then grabbling a seat at a long bar facing one wall or at a table on the partially shaded back deck. Fresh fish is sold retail from a refrigerated case next to the cash register.
The lobster is shipped from Maine daily.
“We put in an order at 6 in the morning, it’s on a plane at 4 p.m. back there and it arrives at our door at 10 am the next morning,” Shawn Whitney said.
The rest of the fish arrives daily from San Francisco, and it adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guidelines for sustainable fisheries.
“We were expecting to do every other day, but it might be every day in the summer,” Whitney said, adding that he sold 40 pounds of salmon the first Saturday the shop was open.
Morgan’s head chef is Michael Plapp, who comes with a long pedigree in Tahoe dining, including stints at Moody’s Plumpjacks and Baxter’s.
“We’re lucky to have him,” Whitney said.
Like the lobster, the restaurant’s name is imported from Maine. Heather Whitney was a Morgan before she and Shawn married recently.
“Morgan’s dad recently passed away, and we figured this was the best way to honor the family name,” Whitney said.
The second snow survey of the season has found the water content of California’s snowpack below average after a mostly dry January.
Surveyors for the state Department of Water Resources doing manual and electronic readings found the statewide snowpack at 93 percent of average for the end of January. That is 55 percent of normal fo rthe entire season — measured through April 1 when the snowpack is typically around its peak.
The early season storms did erase most of the deficit in California’s reservoirs, so they are well situated to handle some shortfall in the water delivered by the snowpack. But water managers are still hoping for a return to normal precipitation in February.
Although the monthly survey at Phillips Station on Echo Summit showed the water content at just 67 percent of normal (and a snow depth of 37 inches), electronic readings indicated that overall, water content in the northern Sierra is 97 percent of normal for the date. Electronic readings for the central Sierra show 90 percent of normal and numbers for the southern Sierra are 91 percent of average.
Snow surveyors for the state reported that water content in California’s mountain snowpack
is well above average for the first week of January.
Manual and electronic readings taken Jan. 2 recorded the snowpack’s statewide water content at 134 percent of
average for this time of year. That’s 49 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack
is normally at its peak before the spring melt.
Results of the manual readings by the Department of Water Resources off Highway 50 near
Echo Summit at Phillips Station found 48.6 inches of snow, 12.1 inches of water content — 101 percent of the long term average.
Electronic readings indicate that the water content in the northern mountains is 133 percent of normal
for the date and 50 percent of the April 1 seasonal average. Electronic readings for the central Sierra
also show 133 percent of normal for the date and half the April 1 average. The numbers for the southern
Sierra are 131 percent.
Royal Gorge, the nation’s largest cross-country ski area, has been purchased by conservation groups to be preserved and protected from development.
The Trust for Public Land and the Truckee Donner Land Trust, working as part of the Northern Sierra Partnership, raised $11.25 million in private and public money, meeting a Dec. 20 deadline to purchase the 3000-acre property on Donner Summit. More than 1,000 people donated to the five-month-long campaign, the groups said.
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation will provide bridge funding to cover for the expected public funds until those funds are available over the next two years. Overall, the three groups are trying to raise $15.5 million, which will include future improvements on the property.
“Saving Royal Gorge is a great example of our goal of protecting land for people,” said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, in a statement. “Families have been coming to Royal Gorge for many years and now those families can be assured that this wonderful place will still be there for future generations to enjoy.”
Local residents at Serene Lakes and Sugar Bowl, both near Royal Gorge, provided most of the private money. The Nature Conservancy, as well as Sierra Watch, also helped raise funds for the campaign.