Cold temperatures and snowfall have finally arrived in winter-like amounts. The gods relented at last and spring seems further away than before. But the gods extract their price nonetheless:Red is not good. I see a lot of red. Folks in the northern Cascades are looking at a normal year. Northern Idaho is too, and Montana and northern Colorado are awash with snow. But the Oregon and Nevada numbers look bad. (The white of northern California just means there are no SNOTEL reporting sites: most are in the Tahoe region.)
But I don’t need a graph to tell me that. I’ve skied over enough rocks this season, rocks in Wyoming, rocks in Utah, rocks in Oregon, and rocks in California. There’s just not enough snow cover. Which means there’s not enough snow. Which means there won’t be enough water in the summer. Welcome to life in the West.
Alpine Meadows ski area is forecasting almost four feet of snow to fall in the next five days and Mount Shasta Ski Park is calling for almost five. The winter we have all been waiting for is about to bury us in the white stuff. California is supposed to get hammered by the upcoming storm cycle. I like it. This is good. But tomorrow is the last day of February! We’ve only really got a month—March—to get those accumulations up. The snowpack needs to get built when it is still cold and the sun’s angle is still low in the sky. By April and May the storms don’t add enough to the base and what falls doesn’t stick around as long.
But at least we’ve had a taste. I was going crazy with the lack of skiing but after a long road trip to chase the powder and some good days here locally on Mt. Ashland I feel a lot better. My skis look like they’ve hit bottom too many times, which they have, and I expect a few more gouges and scrapes before the lifts stop running. But skis can be repaired, drought-ravaged forests not so much.
Perhaps we’ll get our “Miracle March” and the snowpack will be thick and deep for the dry season. That will mean a lot of winter weather in the next few weeks. It looked like it might not come at all and then it came with a bang and I’ll bet folks will be sick of it in short order. But we need it. We need snow, snow, snow. And not just for us skier-types, we need snow to live and thrive. The water doesn’t come from anywhere else and the taps shut off by the middle of May so if we don’t get it now we’ll come up short. As a lifelong Californian, I’m used to that.
John Wesley Powell told Americans that the 100th meridian divided the watered East from the arid West. No one listened. We moved West and brought everything with us. What we have today is a series of oases in the deserts linked by highways and power lines. In California we have a gigantic plumbing system that captures the mountain snowmelt and ships it to the coasts and valleys where the people live. We’ve created the illusion of a fertile Eden but it is just that—an illusion. It works for now because we’ve got a good plumbing system and plenty of cheap electricity. But when Mother Nature denies us our snow, hence our water, things get a little tight. Our demand for water and energy is not going to slacken and our water sources aren’t going to increase. We have to make do with what we’ve got unless we want nuclear-powered desalinating plants dotting our shores. So put on your mittens and pray for more snow.