Update for March 17, 2021

March 17, 2021 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New snow: 17 inches
Total settled snow depth: 47 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 45°F (March 14)
Low temperature: -6°F (March 13)

Ski Conditions and Weather

It was a wintry week in the mountains. Colder than normal temperatures and a few weather disturbances brought some much needed precipitation to the Sierra Nevada. However, this snow was quite low density with only 0.71 inches of water. There were periods of strong winds that resulted in both the loading (on leeward slopes) and scouring (on windward slopes) of snow in the higher elevations. The powder is typically deposited on northeast slopes during the storms only to become wind affected subsequently when the winds shift out of the northeast (from the southwest). This sure keeps one on their toes when planning safe travel in avalanche terrain; a slope that may be good skiing one day may not be so desirable the next.

Cornice on south aspect of Altusky ridge on March 14, 2021.
Cornice on south aspect of Altusky ridge on March 14, 2021.
Our friends at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche center are doing an excellent job of posting daily avalanche advisories this winter. Although conditions can differ slightly here in Tuolumne Meadows, we still start each day by reading the advisory and using the information to help us stay safe on our daily patrols.

Ski conditions presently fall into the “mid-winter” category. Here at the middle elevations today there is boot top powder on top of a firm melt freeze crust. The longer days and warming temperatures will eventually cause a transition to a wetter snow surface. A prolonged dry spell and a melt/freeze cycle could result in some spring ski conditions.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

Wind Slab avalanche on the north slopes of Lembert Dome, March 15, 2021.
Wind Slab avalanche on the north slopes of Lembert Dome, March 15, 2021.
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

The avalanche hazard has varied quite a bit lately. The primary hazard this week was from wind slab avalanches. We observed several shallow wind slab avalanches on the north side of Lembert Dome after strong southwest winds. These avalanches were relatively small, but could be problematic for travelers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Solar aspects could start shedding some of the new snow during the heat of the afternoon. As we progress into spring, mountain travelers should be prepared for changeable conditions as diurnal heating, and overnight cooling of the snowpack become the primary drivers of avalanche hazard and ski conditions.

Tree Life

Unlike the summer months when there is backdrop of brown and green, it is hard to see the trees for the forest. When there is a blanket of newly fallen snow however, it is much easier to see the forest for the trees and not just their silhouettes and dangling branches. With the soft morning light, one can even distinguish the tree species by the mere textures and colors of their bark. Here are a few examples of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), western juniper (Juniperusoccidentalis), Red fir (Abies magnifica), western white pine (Pinus monticola), and mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). 

Five images showing different tree species that grow in the high country.
Top left: lodgepole pine; Top middle: western juniper; Top right: Red fir; Bottom left: western white pine and the north side of Lembert Dome; Bottom right: mountain hemlock

General Information

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is closed for the 2020-2021 season.

Snow falling in Tuolumne Meadows on March 10, 2021.
Winter returns to Tuolumne Meadows on March 10, 2021.

Last updated: March 17, 2021

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