Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite
The best photography tales always seem to start with something like this: “It wasn’t looking good. The skies were completely overcast, but I decided to stick it out and see what might happen. And then…” The teller of the tale goes on to describe the amazing light show that ensued.
Of course you never hear stories about the times when the skies remained overcast and nothing interesting happened. There’s no story there. But the best light often does seem to occur when the odds are low. There might only be a ten percent chance of the sun breaking through, but if it does the results could be spectacular.
Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite
A couple of months ago California was dealing with severe drought; now we’re coping with flooding and landslides. Yosemite has received over 60 inches of rain since October 1st (the beginning of the water year in this state). The annual average is only 37 inches. At this rate we could double that annual average by the time the rainy season ends this spring.
So far Yosemite has escaped any major disasters, but the same can’t be said for San Jose, where two days ago Coyote Creek overflowed and flooded several neighborhoods. Hundreds of people had to be rescued by boat, many homes were inundated with water, and some 14,000 people were evacuated.
Confluence of two swollen creeks, Yosemite, last Thursday afternoon. 1/2 second at f/11, 50 ISO.
California got doused by another series of storms last week. From Sunday (February 5th) through Friday (February 10th) Yosemite Valley received over ten inches of rain, pushing water levels near flood stage again.
My brother Peter came down to visit us from Washington state, and early on Thursday morning we drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping for the sun to break through. We never saw the sun, but we found innumerable small waterfalls, including many I don’t remember seeing before in over 30 years here. And the big waterfalls were ripping. The overcast light was actually the perfect complement to many of these scenes, and I didn’t know when I’d get another opportunity to photograph the waterfalls like this, so we ended up staying in the valley for most of the day photographing the surging cascades.
Horsetail Fall at sunset, February 18th, 2016
It looks like there should be plenty of water in Horsetail Fall this month. Yosemite Valley has received almost ten inches of rain over the past week, and that abundant rainfall has boosted the flow in all of Yosemite’s waterfalls, including Horsetail. In fact the Merced River reached minor flood stage Wednesday night. While the rain runoff will diminish quickly, there’s a healthy snowpack at the higher elevations of Yosemite, which should keep Horsetail flowing for awhile. I expect above-average flow in Horsetail this 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.)
Late-afternoon light on Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite
I haven’t had a chance to post here recently, but I wanted to write about the big snow in Yosemite nine days ago. California was hit by three storms in a row, and the last two brought snow to Yosemite Valley – a lot of snow. The final storm in the sequence moved through slowly on Sunday and Sunday night (January 22nd), but by early Monday morning it showed signs of clearing, so Claudia and I woke early and drove up to the valley. We found about 18 inches of snow in open areas, more than we’d seen in years.
Frazil ice underneath alders along the Merced River, Yosemite, Friday morning. The shutter speed was 3 seconds.
As most of you probably heard, Yosemite got hit with some wild weather last week. The National Weather Service was predicting a major flood for the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on Sunday, January 8th. Their initial projection, issued on January 5th (I think) put the water level at Pohono Bridge at 23.7 feet, slightly higher than the 1997 flood, which closed the valley for two months. Then the next day the projection dropped to 15 feet, considered a moderate flood. On Saturday the projection climbed again to 16, 17, 18, then 19.7 feet – just below the “major flood” level of 20 feet. And then the projection dropped again to 15 feet, and then lower still.