Fun if you like science and weather.
Here’s a New York Times feature on the snow in California. Cool science, great pictures. Here’s another one, with more information on Dr. Painter and his team who do all this great science geek stuff from an airplane, measuring snowpack and water content.
(Aside: Whenever I read about California in the NYT, I get this sort of Dr. Livingston vibe, as if they’ve sent civilized people out into the dangerous wild to gather intelligence on primitive but remarkably sophisticated (meaning: like New Yorkers) tribes. Not as much as I get when reading about the South – there, the vibe is more like: Surprisingly human-like Southerners may be our closest living relatives, after dolphins and Californians. But I digress…)
Observation: in these articles, it is acknowledged that only with the advent of the super high tech NASA/CalTech level gizmos Dr. Painter employs do we have any realistic idea of how much water is in them thar hills. This has only been going on for a few years. Useful records only go back to about the 1980s.Before that, we have guys with poles spot checking here and there, and then guessing about snowpack and water content over an area of thousands of square miles with variations in elevation of 10,000 feet or more – problematic, to say the least.
In the accompanying graphs, 1983 shows up as the record year, with this year close behind. (A couple more storms set to roll in this weekend, a couple more feet of snow expected, so 2017 may end up a record year after all. However, these are of the typical cold and relatively dry Gulf of Alaska variety, and not the warm and wet Pineapple Express flavor we’ve mostly gotten this year.) Yet, as that article from yesterday that Mike Flynn alerted us to, 1861 is the record year – I’ve seen 252% of ‘normal’ snowpack thrown around for that year, which must be a ‘reconstructed’ number, unless there were some pretty dedicated (and widespread) prospectors and Miwok doing science as a hobby.
Good Data is Hard to Find. I might need to get that put on a T-shirt.
Believe it or not, I often edit these posts down, as – and I know you won’t believe this – I tend to ramble. A little. Yesterday, I cut a section wherein was speculated how the California water system would have to fail if we were to have another year with 1861-1862 level storms. Turns out, all we need are 2017-level storms: Melting record snowpack could flood LA Aqueduct and Owens Valley. Owens Valley, of Chinatown fame, is on the eastern slopes of the southern Sierra. Mulholland & Co pretty much drained it dry to supply water to L.A. Now, with all that beautiful snow perched in the mountains set to melt over the next six months (ski areas are planning to stay open into the summer this year), that valley – and the L.A. aqueduct that runs through it and on to L.A. – looks to get flooded.
If a 160% or so snowpack can take out much of L.A.’s water supply, imagine what a 250% snowpack and the associated rains might do. Oroville Dam, which has been dramatically in the news lately, is one of dozens of dams on dozens of reservoirs around the state. All the major ones rely on run-off from the Sierra. This year, they all filled just with rain, and are now frantically dumping water so that they have capacity for the snow melt. In a 1861-level event, all those reservoirs would be wiped out by the first few weeks of rain alone – leaving the snow melt to keep the flooding goings for a few more months.
And sewage treatment for 38 million people? Gone. No drinking water, sewage everywhere. Dead bodies will start piling up – hey! Sounds like the Enlightenment view of the Middle Ages!
There’s a pretty good disaster flick script in there – well, better than Sharknado, at least… Lonely hydrologist tries to warn everybody. Lovely young mom in a troubled marriage lives on a small lake in the Sierra. Stupid politicians. Greedy developers. Cop and his best buddy fireman in some small farming town. 5th generation fisherman on the Bay. North Beach stripper with a heart of gold. The rains and snow start. People get trapped, dramatic rescues, tragic deaths. Rising waters push a tangled flotilla of boats and ships down to the Golden Gate, where they get stuck, restricting water flow and flooding – Berkeley! Yes!
(Unfortunately, the parts you really want flooded are up in the hills. And nobody wants to flood the library. Fiction! We can do anything!) Silicon Valley under 10′ of water. Day of reckoning: Hydrologist surveys the damage, casts accusing eye on politicians and developers. Lessons Are Learned.
We are so, so doomed. Even without the movie.