In our extreme California drought, any potential precipitation is big news. This week two storms are forecast to reach the Sierra Nevada: one tonight, and another, stronger system on Friday, continuing into Saturday. While these are colder storms than the last ones, it doesn’t look like Yosemite Valley will get any snow. The snow level is expected to drop to 4,500 feet on Saturday night, just above the valley floor (at 4,000 feet), so it’s possible the valley could get an end-of-storm dusting if the snow-level predictions are a little off. But lower elevations should get a couple of inches of much-needed rain, and the high country could get over two feet of snow – a very welcome addition to the snowpack.
While the window of best light on Horsetail Fall has passed, any precipitation brings the potential for a photogenic clearing storm. Based on the forecast, it looks like we’ll see some clearing tomorrow, and again on Saturday or Sunday (or maybe both). We’re approaching the best time of year to photograph Tunnel View and Valley View (a.k.a. Gates of the Valley), because the late-afternoon light is balanced between El Capitan on the left and Cathedral Rocks on the right. If a storm clears late in the day that will create ideal conditions at both of those classic views. Of course I describe both of these spots, and many others, in The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, available as both a softcover book and iOS app.
Tunnel View can also work in the morning with the right conditions – which means a clearing storm with low-level mist. The accompanying photograph was made on February 16th, after our last bit of rain, with clouds swirling around Half Dome and the base of El Capitan.
The second storm is also expected to reach southern California, and could be the biggest storm in that region in two years. I don’t know if this rain will be enough to help the wildflower display this spring, but it brings some hope. I heard a report that a few poppies are blooming in the Merced River Canyon, just west of Yosemite. This could be the start of a big display, or nothing much – we’ll see. The moisture from the approaching storms could help the poppies, but on the other hand these flowers won’t emerge unless they get a stretch of sunny, warm weather.
Unfortunately it looks like next week will be dry, but I’m grateful for the storms we’re getting, and hope that the rest of March turns out to be wet!
In other news, the Yosemite Renaissance opening reception is this Friday at the Yosemite Museum (next to the Visitor Center) – always a fun event. And the first-ever Range of Light Film Festival starts Thursday evening and goes through the weekend. So there will be plenty to do this weekend in Yosemite if you have to wait out some rain. 🙂
— Michael Frye
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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.