Storm update 3rd February 2019

[UPDATE Tuesday 5th February: For the first time this winter, Idyllwild awoke to a reasonable blanket of snow, 2.5″ depth at 5550′ elevation. It has continued to snow gently all day, with an additional 2″ accumulation. Since Friday, Idyllwild has had 3.74″ rain and 5.0″ snow. Long Valley (8500′) added another 3-4″ of snow overnight, but the upper mountain has often been above the cloud today.]

[UPDATE Monday 4th February: it has rained – and tried but largely failed to snow – in Idyllwild continuously since yesterday evening. At Humber Park this morning there was an additional one inch of snow at 6500′, but it was also occasionally drizzling. By this evening another 1″ of snow had accumulated. I happened to be there when U. S. Forest Service was closing the Humber Park gate, reducing legal parking spaces from 100+ to 10. It has been snowing on/off at Long Valley (8500′), with an additional 3-5″ accumulating, but for at least part of the day the upper mountain was above the cloud.]

I spent the previous three days on the mountain, descending this morning from San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide to Humber Park. On Friday I was assessing the snow from the minor storm we had on Thursday, and then observed the continuous snowfall we had on Saturday. Snow conditions were perfect for snowshoeing today everywhere above 8000′, with a few inches of soft powder on top of firmer deep snow, with occasional deep drifts.

The minor storm on Thursday produced a very even snowfall across the mountain, with 2.5″ at Saddle Junction (8100′), and 3″ from Long Valley (8500′) all the way to San Jacinto Peak (10,810′), with just a fraction of an inch down to 6400′ in Idyllwild.

Yesterday’s storm was more typical in terms of the snow distribution, but failed to produce the major snowfall of 2-3 feet that had been forecast for the high country. As has been the case all winter, the system was very mild, with much of the precipitation falling as rainfall (up to 8500′) until late on Saturday. Although there was a brief dusting to lower elevations, sticking snow level was down to about 6000′, with 1″ of fresh snowfall at Humber Park, 1.5″ at Saddle Junction, 4″ at 9000′, and about 13″ at San Jacinto Peak. Strong winds have caused extensive drifting, especially into the trails, and quickly eliminate any sign of prior tracks, so route-finding is challenging.

In Idyllwild (at 5550′ elevation) we had 1.72″ rain plus 0.25″ snow yesterday.

I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak at sunrise today.

All trails above about 6500′ are completely snow-covered at this time (some individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are useful but not essential up to about 8000′, especially for descending. Snowshoes are currently invaluable above about 9000′. Crampons may be a useful alternative to above about 9,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak) as the snow continues to firm up. Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting.

For at least the next ten days hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing above 10,000′ (with potential for even more severe cold when considering windchill effects).

Sunrise just east of the Salton Sea, from San Jacinto Peak, today 3rd February 2019.

Weather February is currently forecast be a cold month at all elevations. Further light snow is forecast this evening, tomorrow, and Tuesday, with a possibility of a little more again next weekend. As temperatures will remain low all week, snow conditions should remain excellent for snowshoeing in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Sunday 3rd February 2019, at 0635 the air temperature was 13°F (-11°C), with a windchill temperature of -5°F (-21°C), 100% relative humidity, and a bitter 18 mph SW wind gusting to 25 mph.

At the Peak yesterday, Saturday 2nd February 2019, at 1210 the air temperature was a relatively mild 26.9°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 9.8°F (-12°C), 100% relative humidity, and a howling 19 mph SW wind gusting to 40.3 mph.

San Gorgonio from San Jacinto Peak, today 3rd February, at sunrise.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The Pacific Crest Trail is continuously snow-covered from south of Red Tahquitz (approx. PCT Mile 175) through to at least Mile 192. Fuller Ridge Trail section has not been traveled since November, there is no trail to follow, and it will be very treacherous in places. It will likely be impassable without ice axe, crampons, and good knowledge of how to use both.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a continuous snow cover of a couple of inches. Currently microspikes are not required in the soft snow for either descending or ascending, but they may become useful soon due to compaction and overnight freezing.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains very treacherous. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with their use), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are essential.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear of snow in its lower half, and the snow is very thin and soft in the upper section (nearer Humber Park).

South Ridge Road is open, and is readily passable with 4WD/AWD.

Measured snow depths from today (including all recent and past storms) are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms, recent melting, and windblown drifts. Much deeper drifts and patches may be encountered. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 3.5-4.0 feet (very heavily drifted on east slope)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 30″ (but very heavily drifted here)

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 13″

Long Valley (8500′): 7″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 5″

Humber Park (6500′): 1″

The Peak Trail just above Wellman Divide this morning, 3rd February (above), and the same view two days earlier on Friday 1st February (below).

2 thoughts on “Storm update 3rd February 2019

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