Archive for the ‘Yosemite Photo Conditions’ Category

Waiting for the Storm to Clear

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Misty sunset over Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty sunset over Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Two weather systems have brought over two inches of precipitation to Yosemite Valley since Friday night. It was very warm at the beginning, with snow levels at 9,000 feet, but now the temperature has dropped, and it’s snowing in Yosemite Valley. I can even see flakes falling outside my window in Mariposa, at 2,800 feet, but it’s a little too warm for the snow to stick.

It looks like the storm might clear this afternoon, but these things are always hard to predict. Radar images show the tail end of the precipitation approaching, but that can be deceiving, as showers often linger over the mountains longer than you would otherwise expect. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things this afternoon, especially since there’s no precipitation in the seven-day forecast, so this might be the last chance to photograph a clearing storm for awhile. We’ll see what happens!

In the meantime, here’s a photograph from a clearing storm back in January of 2012. Chances are low that this current storm will bring an opportunity like this, but you can always hope.

— Michael Frye

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Horsetail Fall Forecast

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite

Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite

We’re getting close to Horsetail Fall season, and I’m getting lots of questions about the water flow and the right time of year to photograph it.

As I said in my last post, there’s a healthy snowpack at higher elevations of Yosemite. Badger Pass ski area still reports 60 inches of snow on the ground at the base of the mountain (7,200 feet), and 72 inches at the top (8,000 feet). Horsetail’s small drainage on top of El Capitan lies at similar elevations, but faces south, and the slopes of Badger Pass face north. That means Horsetail’s drainage gets more sun, and the snow melts faster. But there should still be at least three or four feet of snow on top of El Cap right now, and it’s hard to imagine how all of that could melt between now and the third week of February. After four years of drought, it looks like we’ll finally have a good flow in Horsetail Fall at the right time of year.

But water flow is just one element. You also need the sun to set at the right angle to backlight Horsetail and make it turn orange, yet have the cliff behind it in the shade, so that the glowing, backlit, orange water is set against a dark background. My best estimate is that this happens between February 16th and 23rd, and perhaps even a few days beyond. (I delve into more detail about all that here.)

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Biggest Storm in Years

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Over the last couple of days Yosemite received a big dose of rain and higher-elevation snow. It was one of those “atmospheric river” events, with subtropical moisture streaming into the northern part of California. Usually when this happens satellite photos will show a direct, straight line of clouds extending from somewhere near Hawaii toward California. But this time the river took a detour, starting north of Hawaii, then bending up toward the Gulf of Alaska and back down to Northern California. This screen shot from the Upweather app at 2:00 p.m. yesterday shows that path:

The "atmospheric river" aimed at northern California at 2:00 p.m. yesterday

The atmospheric river aimed at northern California at 2:00 p.m. yesterday

Since Sunday afternoon Yosemite Valley has received over 5.5 inches of rain. We got over 3.5 inches at our house in Mariposa. That’s easily the biggest storm in this area since 2011, before the drought.

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First Snowfall

Sunday, November 15th, 2015
Snow-covered California black oak, late autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Snow-covered California black oak, late autumn, Yosemite, Tuesday morning

I’m in Dallas today teaching a Lightroom workshop for the Sun to Moon Gallery. We have a nice group of people and we’re having a great time, but meanwhile, back in Yosemite, another storm is arriving. I won’t get to photograph this one, but did get to photograph the previous one last Monday and Tuesday.

That storm featured a brief, misty clearing on Monday morning, a dusting of snow on Monday night, and a couple of surprises. It began on Sunday night, but early Monday morning the satellite and radar images showed that there might be a break around sunrise before more precipitation arrived that afternoon. So I drove up to Tunnel View early, and sure enough, it did clear. It wasn’t the most colorful sunrise, but there was plenty of beautiful mist, as you can see in this photograph:

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An Early Winter Storm

Thursday, November 5th, 2015
Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, Tuesday morning

It’s nice to see the Yosemite high country covered in snow on the Sentinel Dome webcam – an uncommon sight in recent years. On Monday a large, winter-like storm reached California, dropping over two-and-a-half inches of rain in Yosemite Valley, and from one to two feet of snow at higher elevations. The winter wet season is off to a good start.

I’m not celebrating too much yet, however, because I remember this happening before. During the last four water-starved winters several large, early-season storms have created initial optimism, only to be followed by months of sunny skies. Let’s hope that this is just the first of many big storms to arrive this winter.

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A Stormy Afternoon, and a Fall Color Report

Thursday, October 29th, 2015
Sunset light, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset light, Tunnel View, yesterday evening

Some interesting weather passed through the Sierra Nevada yesterday. It so happened that I had an errand to run in Yosemite Valley, which gave me an excuse (as if I needed one) to go up there and check on the weather. After taking care of the errand, Claudia and I ended up at Tunnel View, where we waited out a thunderstorm. I tried to take a nap in the car, but was rudely awakened several times by loud claps of thunder. After the rain stopped I went out to the viewpoint and waited for the sun to break through, joined by a number of other photographers, including some friends and acquaintances. Tunnel View is, by virtue of its popularity, the social gathering place for photographers in Yosemite.

Finally, just before sunset, the sun did break through and light El Capitan (see the photograph above). It’s funny how all those photographers can suddenly become quiet as they concentrate on composition and camera settings.

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Yosemite Valley Fall Color

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
El Capitan and the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite Valley. This photograph from 2006 shows big-leaf maple leaves covering the foreground shoreline.

On my way home Thursday I drove the loop around Yosemite Valley to check on the fall color progression. The first thing that struck me was the cottonwoods, which have all dropped their leaves without turning yellow. Is this a sign of the drought? Maybe, but I saw the same thing happen in 2011, after one of the wettest winters and springs on record for Yosemite Valley. There are a lot of factors that affect fall color, so it’s hard to pinpoint one cause.

Some of the black oak leaves also seem to be turning brown. I’d say half of the oaks look fine (though still mostly green), and half appear to be wilting.

On the other hand, the big-leaf maples and dogwoods look pretty normal, though they’re turning late. Many maples sport a few brown leaves, but that’s actually pretty typical. The rest of the leaves are either healthy green or starting to turn yellow, and once they all turn yellow you won’t notice the brown leaves. Most of the dogwoods look quite normal overall, though they’re turning late.

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Heading Home

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015
Aspens along a creek in the eastern Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Aspens along a creek in the eastern Sierra Nevada, from last Friday

After nearly a month on the road in Colorado and the eastern Sierra, Claudia and I are heading home today. But before making the drive I thought I’d post a brief report about fall color on the east side.

Colder weather and wind this week have caused many leaves at higher elevations to drop off, yet there are some beautiful patches of color at lower elevations, along with many still-green aspens. Lower Lundy Canyon (up to the end of the dirt road) looks really nice right now, with about 70 percent of the trees turning, 20 percent green, and 10 percent bare. The June Lake Loop from Grant to Silver lakes has plenty of color, but is still only perhaps 50 percent yellow and orange, with 50 percent green. Lee Vining Canyon is maybe 60 or 70 percent green, with the rest either yellow, bare, or brown. Up a little higher, Conway Summit has some large bare patches, but a few groves there are still quite colorful.

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Eastern Sierra Fall Color Update

Sunday, October 18th, 2015
Carson Peak and aspens during a clearing storm, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Peak and aspens during a clearing storm, June Lake Loop, Friday morning

The past week has been very warm, so there hasn’t been a big color change at the lower elevation aspen groves in the eastern Sierra during that time. But there’s definitely more color in those areas, and some great spots, although much of the June Lake Loop and Lee Vining Canyon are still green. Conway Summit, which is a little higher, has some very colorful groves, although it also has some bare trees, and green ones as well. Several spots in the greater Lee Vining area seem to have more oranges and reds than usual.

We also found some beautiful color in Bishop Creek Canyon. North Lake is past peak, though there was still some nice color along the shore. But lower down we found lots of colorful trees, especially along the road to South Lake.

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Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra

Monday, October 12th, 2015
Aspens and lodgepole pines, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and lodgepole pines, upper Lee Vining Canyon, yesterday afternoon

After returning from Colorado, and spending a couple of days at home, Claudia and I are back in the eastern Sierra. Yesterday we scouted areas around Lee Vining, and most of the aspen groves here are at about the stage you would expect for the second week of October. That means that the lower-elevation aspens still have a lot of green, and more color can be found in the mid- and high-elevation areas. The best color we saw was in Warren Canyon (in upper Lee Vining Canyon), around Conway Summit (including the lowest part of the road to Virginia Lakes), and Dunderberg. The June Lake Loop and lower Lee Vining Canyon still show a lot of green. We didn’t visit Lundy Canyon yet, but heard there was some nice color there.

We also found some aspen groves that seem to have lost their leaves prematurely. These tend to be in drier areas, so that might a sign of the drought. But these places are a minority, and most of the aspens look healthy and are changing according to their normal schedule.

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