Snow storm summary 15th December 2021

This is a summary of conditions following the third – and most substantial – snow storm of winter 2021/22 to date, with all of the snow falling on Tuesday 14th December.

While we have to be grateful for any precipitation received given such a rapidly changing climate, it is hard not to be a little disappointed as snowfall in the high country was about half what was widely forecast. About nine inches fell at San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft), down to about an inch in Idyllwild (at 5550ft). The storm system was cold in its last few hours, with a dusting of snow to 4000ft, e.g., in Garner Valley. Detailed snow depths recorded on my hike on Tuesday 15th are given at the foot of this posting.

I recorded a brief YouTube video at San Jacinto Peak just after sunrise on 15th (available here) which gives a feel for the conditions at that time.

It rained relatively heavily in Idyllwild before the precipitation turned to snow, with 1.43 inches measured at 5550ft. The system was initially warm enough that rainfall occurred to at least 9700ft at Wellman Divide. Branches were heavily laden with ice between about 8000ft and 10,000ft, and I found many broken tree limbs in the trails. Hikers should expect to find many new treefall hazards in burn areas.

The snowfall was associated with persistent, strong, gusty winds, and as a consequence drifting was particularly severe. There are areas around the high peaks where it is possible to find drifts 18-24 inches deep, and on Devil’s Slide Trail for example there are short sections 4-6 inches deep even though only a couple of inches of fresh snow fell yesterday.

Currently very few major trails have been traveled and all are at least partly obscured by snowfall. Fortunately the snow is generally so shallow that navigation should not be a serious problem, but caution is advised. On my descent late this morning I was surprised to see no other tracks beyond Saddle Junction. The significance of this is that there are currently no tracks on Willow Creek Trail, to Chinquapin Flat or Tahquitz Peak, or around the meadows. Beyond Saddle Junction, at the time of writing my snowshoe tracks to San Jacinto Peak are the only traveled high country trail. This situation will likely improve significantly over the next few days, especially at the weekend, as more hikers venture into the snow.

Snow depths are currently adequate for snowshoeing everywhere above about 9000ft, although they are not essential depending on your comfort level with light postholing in relatively shallow snow. Spikes are recommended everywhere above about 6000ft for the foreseeable future as trails become compacted by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They will be especially valuable on increasingly consolidated tracks (e.g., Devil’s Slide and Deer Springs trails) on colder mornings when conditions are icy, and for descending.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and generally well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

For details regarding pre-existing (non snow/ice) hazards on the trails, coronavirus issues and ranger station access, please see this recent Report or contact the State Park or Forest Service as indicated on their websites.

The USFS gate at Humber Park closed on 13th December. Even when closed there are nine legal parking spaces this side of the gate (near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead). Any vehicles not parked in these spaces may be ticketed and/or towed. If there are signs further down indicating that the road is closed, then the nine spaces are also unavailable for legal parking.

Looking north-west from San Jacinto Peak shortly after sunrise, 15th December 2021. Note the very prominent “San Jac shadow” being cast in front of the San Gabriel mountains on the left, and the snow-clad San Bernardino range on the right.

WEATHER Temperatures are forecast to remain at or slightly below seasonal averages for the next few days at mid elevations (and about seasonal in the high country). Snow melt will initially be slow above 9000ft, and conditions will be increasingly icy with challenging freeze-thaw conditions underfoot at all elevations. Forecasts suggest further unsettled weather for 21st-25th December at least, with the possibility of light to moderate snow (high country) and rain (mid elevations) currently most likely on or around Wednesday 22nd.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Wednesday 15th December 2021 at 0640 the air temperature was 22.1°F (-6°C), with a windchill temperature of 0.0°F (-18°C), 31% relative humidity, and a gusty NW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 33.5 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 14th December 2021 at 1630 the air temperature was 10.4°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -17.5°F (-27.5°C), 93% relative humidity, and a wild WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 32.5 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 13th December 2021 at 1635 the air temperature was 27.2°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 10.2°F (-12°C), 81% relative humidity, and a sharp SW wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 21.9 mph.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 15th December 2021 are as follows. The first number is the current average total depth, with the storm total following in parentheses. Shallow depths of snow remained from the minor storm the previous week, and these account for the differences. Note that average depth is given; due to strong winds there is extensive drifting, especially in the trails. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 11 inches (storm total 9 inches, very heavily drifted)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 6.5 inches (storm total 4.5 inches)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 5 inches (storm total 3 inches)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 3 inches (storm total about 2 inches, there were two inches present on 13th December, but some of this was likely lost to warm rainfall on 14th)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520ft): 2 inches (at noon today, melting already underway)

Idyllwild (at 5550ft): 1 inch, melting slowly this afternoon.

The Peak Trail at 9800ft just above Wellman Divide on 15th December 2021 (above), and the same view two days earlier on 13th December 2021 (below).

Thank you fellow hikers for taking the time to read this. While all labor and time is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report completely depends on small private donations to cover operating costs. Every year seems to have its challenges and 2021 has been no exception, so every contribution, no matter how small, is truly valuable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you for your support.

The north spring at Wellman’s Cienega on the morning of 15th December 2021 (above), and on 13th December 2021 (below).

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