California: from Mega-Drought to “The Big Melt”

Opinion by Kip Hansen – 2 May 2023

California, the state of my birth, childhood and my familiar stomping ground throughout my university years – just a year ago claiming itself engulfed by a millennial-scale mega-drought — is now worried about too much water:

The Mega-Drought Is Over But California Faces a New Threat: Floods

Of course, because the topic is weather – which nearly everyone in California thinks equals Climate which equals Climate Change which equals Climate Crisis which equals Climate Catastrophe   — this weather phenomenon must be a threat.

The latest version of this new threat is “The Big Melt” – cheerfully promoted and megaphoned by – well, nearly every news outlet in California and is echoed in the national press:

NBCNews:  “The big melt is now here”: California braces for floods

USA Today: ‘The Big Melt’: California braces for flooding as heat wave takes aim at state

Yale Climate Connections:  “California’s Big Melt kicks off, likely to cause floods”

Sky News:  “The big melt: Crushed houses, trapped cars and the threat of floods”

And then, of course, the re-birth of Tulare Lake:

New York Times:  “The Resurrection of Tulare Lake”

California Local:  “Destruction or Reclamation? Lake Tulare Reborn”

The plentiful rain that fell in California through the last few months have ended California’s long-term drought for now, but has also left the mountains covered in snow, tens of feet deep.  In many places, twice the normal amount of snow with twice the normal amount of water equivalent.  As that snow melts, the creeks and rivers will flow with far more water than usually seen.   Reservoirs, many already being purposefully held at their desired maximum levels for this time of year, will receive more and more water – that water either has to either be retained in the reservoir, or released downstream to already saturated areas.  The Oroville Reservoir barely escaped a major disaster when water levels were not lowered early and far enough in the spring of 2017.

The “Big Melt” is based on fears of the possibility of a very warm spring which could cause a rapid melt of the snowpack.  This threat is being widely promoted by a Climate Feedback contributor  Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.  [ A Google Search for “Daniel Swain and Big Melt” returns almost a million results.  More on Swain here. ]

I am from California, born and raised there.  The High Sierras were a huge part of my childhood: camping and hiking, six kids under 16 hiking (my brothers and three cousins and I) from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite south down the valleys on the John Muir trail and then up over Mt. Whitney to Lone Pine. [ Using this route ]   The Yosemite Valley meadows which are covered with campgrounds and tourists in season are still wild and beautiful.  But with the spring come floods and the California press was awash with news that Most of Yosemite Valley will close starting Friday, April 28, at 10 pm, due to a forecast of flooding.”    Flooding in the spring is perfectly normal for Yosemite Valley in the spring. And is fully expected, every single year.

How long has this been happening? 

Since forever.   But one of the best description of this magnificent natural phenomenon was written by John Muir himself – about the flood of December 1871, and was originally published in the June 1875 issue of The Overland Monthly and substantially revised as Chapter XI, “The River Floods,” in The Mountains of California (1894).

The full original story (which is much better than the revised version published in The Mountains of California) can be read here, supplied by the Library of America. [ you can download a .pdf copy here ]

Here are some excerpts, starting on the 18th of December, 1871:

Note:  Hutching’s and Black’s were two hotels operating in the Yosemite Valley in the 1870s. 

The links for the full original piece: read here, supplied by the Library of America. [ or you can download a .pdf copy here ] 

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Author’s Comment:

Yosemite Valley and the surrounding Sierras are magnificent and utterly priceless.  John Muir was the prime mover in seeing that they were protected as a National Park.     Tuolumne Meadows campground is currently closed through 2024/2025 for re-developmentIt regularly floods and campsites are washed away.  Other Yosemite campgrounds, on the flat alpine meadows on each side of the Merced River, flood nearly every spring.  Since 2007, the Merced at Pohono Bridge has exceeded flood stage more than a dozen times.

John Muir uses the term “the meadows”, but he is not referring to Tuolumne Meadows (circled in green at the right) but the meadows along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley (circled in yellow), downstream from Glacier Point.   

The Yosemite Valley is a natural wonder – if you haven’t seen it, put it on your Bucket List.  When my father was in his last years, I took him for one last look, driving from Los Angeles up through the deserts east of the Sierras and then west through into the Sierra at Tuolumne and then on down and through the loop in the Yosemite Valley.

Quit worrying about the weather and “Thanks for reading.”

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via Watts Up With That?

May 2, 2023 at 08:07AM

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