Early Winter?

Tom Stienstra at the SFGate Blog recently wrote an article entitled Bird migration forecasts early winter. The article was published on September 13, 2012. According to the early migration of this type of bird, we may see an early winter this year!

 There’s a saying, “Birds never lie.”

If so, the best weather forecaster in the West, the migratory sandhill crane, is predicting an early winter with plenty of rain and snow.

Over the years, the timing of the migration of sandhill cranes south to the San Joaquin Valley has predicted winter weather, both wet and dry. Early migrations have meant big winters. Late migrations, the opposite.

“I think 2012 sets a record for earliest arrival,” said Gary Ivey, the International Crane Foundation’s Western Conversation Manager.

This fall’s verified migration started  August 25 when 10 sandhill cranes were sighted in northern San Joaquin County by a birdwatching group guided by Esther Milnes-Schmierer, a docent for the Department of Fish and Game. In past years, the giant sandhill cranes have first arrived in mid-September.

Many thought it was an anomaly. But the cranes have kept coming and are starting to pour into the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Consumnes River Preserve near Lodi, their annual wetland destinations of choice each fall.

Over the years, the sandhill cranes’ ability to predict weather seems uncanny.

In early winter, if a sub-flock of sandhill cranes breaks off from the main flock in the San Joaquin Valley and then fly south to Soda Lake in in the Carrizo Plain, you can expect a big winter of rain and snow. Last year, the cranes didn’t fly to Soda Lake and much of the winter turned out to be a drought.

In the spring, when they migrate north, they can predict the end of rain and arrival of summer to Northern California.

Last April, after a drought was followed by a wet early spring, I spotted a flock of nearly a hundred sandhill cranes migrating north up the Sacramento Valley. Sure enough: By the end of the week, summer weather had taken hold of Northern California for good. The rain was done.

The cranes wingspans span seven feet. At Woodbridge, the dusk sky can fill with them cruising overhead. Their cacophonous honks can carry for miles.

Most of the birds migrate from their summer nesting grounds in the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as the Arctic and Siberia, down to the San Joaquin Valley to Woodbridge, Staten Island and Consumnes River Ecological Reserve.

While weather was relatively dry this past summer in their northern breeding grounds, Ivey said, weather followers have noted a succession of storms this month to sweep through western Canada.

It could be just a start for what sweeps across the Western U.S. in the coming winter.

Lake Tahoe Winter Legacy 2010-2011

Photo #1

Mark McLaughlin is a Weather Historian, Author, and Professional Speaker. He recently wrote about the legacy winter Lake Tahoe experienced this past season and the effects the area can expect over the next few months. Click on the link for more photos and information about The Storm King.

The epic winter of 2011 is finally winding down after pounding the Sierra with enough snow to set new records for seasonal accumulation at major Tahoe resorts. The official 2011 water year won’t end until September 30, but because April, May, and June combined typically provide only 12 percent of annual snowfall and 16 percent of our annual precipitation (summer precipitation is statistically negligible), the worst is likely over.

There hasn’t been enough snow at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory (CSSL) near Donner Pass this April to bump 2011 past 16th position on the list of snowiest winters since 1878, but the game isn’t over yet and the Storm King might have a few more surprises for us.

Photo #2

In April 1880, Donner Pass was bombarded with a record 25 feet of snow, an impressive onslaught that boosted 1880 into third

place for the all-time snowiest winter.

At the end of March 2011, the snowpack at Norden and Serene Lakes near Donner Pass approached 20 feet deep on the level, with the 17.2 feet recorded at the CSSL the fifth deepest since its establishment in 1946. The heavy snow loads pulled down power and phone lines, while propane leaks in the Serene Lakes community caused an explosion that destroyed a three-story house and forced a voluntary evacuation order.

The seemingly endless storms in March dumped 248 percent of the average precipitation for the month at Lake Tahoe, and left a snowpack nearly double normal. The deluge of precipitation

Photo #3

(combination of rain and snow melted for its water content) did wonders for the water supply outlook for Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River basin, and decisively broke a four year dry spell. In the Truckee River Basin, reservoir storage at major reservoirs were all at or above average, compared to last year when storage

was only 67 percent of normal.

On April 1, water values in the Lake Tahoe Basin snowpack were measured at 173 percent of normal for the date. Last year it was only 87 percent of average. Better yet, Lake Tahoe’s water level has already risen more than two feet since last October, and is forecast to rise another 2.30 feet to its high elevation of about 6,228 feet, just 13 inches below the maximum allowed by federal law. This dramatic rise of 4 to 5 feet in Lake Tahoe will rank as one of the top ten greatest increases since the completion of the Tahoe Dam in 1907.

Photo #4

The enormous Sierra snowpack has the potential to generate flooding on both sides of the range. Historically, peak reservoir inflows from the melting snowpack in the central and southern Sierra don’t occur until mid to late May, so high water issues and flood damage will be a concern for another 8 to 10 weeks.

Flood potential in the Truckee-Tahoe region is classified as above average on Lake Tahoe tributaries as well as the

uncontrolled feeder streams on the Truckee River above Reno. Fortunately, despite the rapid rise this year of Lake Tahoe’s water level, there is still plenty of storage available in Big Blue, as well as in flood control reservoirs like Prosser, Stampede, and Boca, to prevent major damage on the main stem of the Truckee River.

This spring’s massive snowmelt runoff appears controllable at the moment, but all bets are off if an extended heat wave engulfs the region or if a significant rain event should occur.

Photo #1: Snow is melting fast here on North Shore Tahoe, but the snowpack is still substantial for mid-April.

Photo #5

Photo #2: When the snow melts I’ll finally be about to see out of my first floor windows. They’ve been covered since mid-December.
Photo #3: So much snow fell at Squaw Valley in March that the pack began to peel apart.
Photo #4: Deep snow piled up at Serene Lakes is pulling down power

and phone lines.
Photo #5: This front end loader broke down while digging out a storefront. Leaking propane tanks have forced authorities to restrict access to some neighborhoods. One house blew up last week.