Monthly Archives: February 2011

Snow Anyone?

In my previous posts, I sounded excited about getting a lot of snow…. well I thought we had a lot of snow at that time.  It’s nothing compared to what we recieved this weekend.  Friday’s snowstorm landed the biggest single-day’s worth of snow that any of us have ever seen.  In the evening, when the weather began to taper, Greg Roberts and Scott Noblitt, with the help of the owner of the very cool lodge they are staying at up here in the backcountry, were able to access the site via snowmobile to ensure that none of our equipment was damaged by the unreliable electric service during the storm.  When Jack, Jessie, and I arrived in the morning, we were greeted with more than 3.5 feet of new snow (on top of the 1 foot we had remaining from the previous storm).  If you have trouble grasping how much this really is… trust me, I’m still trying and I’m in the middle of it… here’s a picture of Jessie (about 5′ 5″ tall) clearing snow off to top of NOAA’s box trailer.  Remember, all of that fell in ONE DAY.

Snow on the NOAA trailer after the 2/25 storm

Jessie Creamean posing for a photo while clearing snow from the top of the NOAA trailer at Sugar Pine Dam after the storm on 2/25/11.

According to meteorological data, this past storm may have been associated with Atmospheric River conditions, a notion that jives well with the heavy precipitation we received here in the Sierra in a short amount of time.  These kinds of conditions, where water vapor is transported directly from the tropics to the western margin of North America, have been responsible for some of the heaviest rain and snowfall on record for this region.  The band of water vapor that hit the coast here on Friday moved southward to the San Diego area on Saturday, giving our friends back home a good soaking.

In terms of aerosol science, it was great to have this second storm a week after the first one: we collected some great snow samples and were able to look for reproducible conditions surrounding the two storms.  We’re collecting lots of nice data up here, and we’re all confident that we’ll learn a lot from our observations thus far.  We’re just about 10 days or so from the end of the intensive sampling campaign.  We’re looking to finish strong… I got word today that there are plans to do lots of flights over Sugar Pine Dam in the G1.  I still haven’t had the opportunity to spot them by eye over the site (every time I’ve been available to look, it’s been cloudy).



“Unsettled Weather – Carry Chains”

We saw this message on a motorist alert sign on I-80 today heading in the direction of Donner Pass… it seemed appropriate for the situation.  This weekend we had 3+ feet of snow dumped on the field site at Sugar Pine Dam.  Things got more interesting with electric service becoming as unpredictable as the weather.  Once we finally felt settled and stabilized our research payload, the Sugar Pine crew got a little snow-related activity in this weekend.


A view from the Humbug Loop in the China Wall area of Tahoe National Forest

It’s a very good thing we decided to rent those snowshoes… we simply would not have made it down the access road without them.  Knee-to-hip high snow was the norm for the ensuing 2 days… and wouldn’t you know it, we needed to transport some urgently needed (and very heavy) equipment to the site.  We decided a ski-patrol/mountain rescue procedure was in order — though we used a slightly lower-tech approach…

Snowshoe Sled

Jack and Doug utilize a mountain rescue technique to bring important supplies to the Prather Group's Portable Aerosol Observatory while it's under 3+ feet of snow.

Science-wise, we’ve all been very interested in the preliminary results at Sugar Pine.  It looks like we’ll be able to present some very interesting findings once we all get our data processed and compared.  It’s great to have multiple views of the conditions at our site, with Greg Roberts and Scott Noblitt joining us this year on a day-to-day basis.


More SNOW at Sugar Pine!

It’s been an incredibly snowy 2 days here at Sugar Pine Dam.  Last we saw around noon today, there was about 16 inches of snow on the ground… we’re expecting maybe another foot of accumulation by the time we make it into the site tomorrow.  Our exit from the site was about as snowy as I’m comfortable with… we were going to go back in to check our equipment one more time at the end of the afternoon, and decided not to based on quickly deteriorating conditions and daylight.  We rented snowshoes for tomorrow….

Sugar Pine Snow Day

Approximately 12 inches of snow blankets the Sugar Pine Dam field site in the Foresthill, CA backcountry.

Things are ‘heating up’

Well… actually, it’s a lot colder than it was, but who’s counting.  We now have some snow at Sugar Pine Dam — about 2-3 inches.  We had to come up early today to get our communications back on line, as snow and satellite uplinks don’t mix well.  It’s a good thing we have a substantial 4×4 vehicle.  There was a stuck pickup truck on the access road to Sugar Pine Dam… at least it was less serious than when we came upon an overturned Jeep during one of last year’s storms.  I never thought we’d actually have to use the chains and the come-along winch we brought along…. this year we’ve managed to not need it (yet!!).

Sugar Pine in the Snow

Sugar Pine Dam recieved about 2-3 inches of snow overnight 2/15-2/16.

Once we trudged our way into the site, by 4×4 and then by foot at the end, we were able get communications back up and running, check our instruments, bring in the collected slush from overnight for offline analysis, and relay some certainty of the conditions before the G1 aircraft flew over the site (and the rest of the central Sierra), about which I’m sure Kim will have much more to say.  We heard them fly over us twice today… they were squarely in the thick cloud deck, but the G1’s twin turbo-prop was clearly audible.  As I write to you now, the G1 is flying over the Donner Summit and Norden (home of the Central Sierra Snow Lab… and some really great skiing).

We’ve been very excited about our preliminary looks at data, and communicating lots with those back at the aircraft HQ at McClellan Airport.  All of our measurements are up and running well at SPD… let’s hope it stays that way!  Stay tuned….

-Doug Collins

CalWater: Day 12-The ridge strikes again…

What was I saying yesterday about humbling?  So after seeing the clouds yesterday, forecasts indicated they should be here today along the coast so we could go out to the coast and sample our first real clouds for this campaign…Guess what!  No clouds…they are just out of reach of our flights…I’ve made a sequence of satellite image that perfectly depicts our crazy situation.

story of the clouds Feb 10 to 12 2011

Do you see the trend?  Let’s hope we beat the trend tomorrow and the rest of this week!!  I’m off to boil chicken heads under the moon light and light 3 candles now…and no, I’m not superstitious…

CalWater: Day 11–The clouds have ARRIVED!!!

Hard to believe that 11 days can pass with no clouds along the northern CA coast or even fog in the Central Valley.  Through this experience, I am come to appreciate those who watch the weather–it is fascinating, albeit incredibly stressful.  It is truly a humbling experience and a big lesson that one should not stress over something over which they have zero control. We tried rain dances, boiling chicken parts, everything, and simply nothing worked.  The ridge is just weakening now.  I awake every morning and the first thing I click (before email even) is Patrick Minnis’s web site for CalWater with satellite data showing our region of interest….Every time I look, the clouds are just out of reach of our flight plans.   This morning I became so excited when I saw clouds actually touching the CA coast in the north within our reach!!  The only problem is we scheduled a down day today (no flights) because forecasts said they wouldn’t be here yet.  There’s always tomorrow…

Update from the Wilderness

You really know you’re in the wilderness when your ‘address’ is officially Foresthill Backcountry, CA with no zip code.  It was big news that nearby residents got landline telephone service for the first time ever this summer.  Forget about cell phones…. satellite phones don’t even work up here, as we discovered the hard way last year.

Since about the beginning of February, we’ve been having uncommonly clean conditions around these parts, apart from the errant plume of local smoke.  It looks like today is turning around a little, there is general haze much farther up the foothills than there was earlier, and since about mid-day, we’ve been seeing elevated concentrations of aerosol at Sugar Pine Dam.  I say “elevated” but, based on our prior sampling at this site over the last 2 years, it’s actually pretty close to normal as far as I can tell.

The full payload of instruments are now running here at the Dam — Dr. Scott Noblitt, a postdoc under Dr. Greg Roberts at Scripps Inst. of Oceanography, is now (and has been for the last several days) fully operational with his micro-capillary electrophoresis setups.  One of the two will measure anions in cloud condensation nuclei, while the other will measure the same anions in the full aerosol load.

As regular readers know, we’ve been having incredibly fair weather for the last week or two, and it’s really been good for our exercise schedules… being out here in such a beautiful part of the country is really a treat.  If only we could get some snow……. (coming soon!)

–Doug Collins