March 18-19, 2012 – The Winter Storm of 2012 in Yosemite Valley

As has been well-documented, the “rainy” season has been nearly non-existent in Northern CA.  The higher elevations of the Sierras have gotten a little wintry precipitation; however, it takes quite a good amount of cold air to get any snow accumulation in Yosemite Valley since it sits at approximately 4000 ft…  I know the winter of 2011 should not be used as a comparison to other years since it broke all kinds of records… However, storm after storm raced across Northern CA in 2011 and Yosemite Valley was a winter wonderland on numerous occasions… Like clockwork the storms dumped impressive amounts of snow up and down the Sierras and it seemed like every weekend Yosemite Valley was under the gun…  Guess I shouldn’t haven taken last winter for granted because it obviously didn’t happen this year!

 

I had been tracking the weather system for nearly a week…  Snow/Rain/Snow/Rain/Snow as the forecast seemed to change with each and every model run…  Finally, Thursday the weather models indicated significant amounts of snowfall in the high Sierras…  Cold air was supposed to reach the Yosemite Valley floor, but how long would the cold air remain in place was the big question…  A fellow coworker (Jesse) secured a spot tent camping the night of March 16th-17th…  As it turned out the rain, followed by the heavy wet snow collapsed his so-called indestructable tarp and tent…  I can’t believe Jesse and his fiancee (Amanda) actually made it through the entire night in a tent!!!

 

So I decided to leave the Bay Area around 100 am to avoid traffic and get into Yosemite Valley before sunrise…  Snow was evident near Groveland and there was plenty of snow on Route 120 into the Yosemite Valley…  After nearly 4 hours of driving and listening/brainwashed by some cult-like radio show about Ouija (WeeGee) boards on Coast to Coast A.M. hosted by George Noory, I finally arrived and headed directly to Tunnel View…  There was at least 8-10 inches of snow and the parking lot was not plowed…  I put the jeep back into 4WD and secured my spot…  I decided to take a quick nap and stop listening to Ouija (WeeGee) board talk as it was beginning to freak me out… It’s amazing how many crazy people are listening to this garbage at 100 am in the morning (including myself!)…

 

I began to set up around 600 am…  There was going to be no sunrise because storm clouds were still impacting the area; however, the snow had stopped, for now…  The heavy, wet snow put considerable weight on the tree branches for the firs time this winter…  The clumps of snow in the trees in the foreground at Tunnel View is quite possibly one of the most beautiful winter scenes I have ever experienced…  There was just enough fog meandering around the Valley to make things interesting…  I would take meandering fog over sun anytime…

 

As it turned out the snow began to fall shortly after “sunrise” and continued dumping all day…  I, as well as a handful of other photographers, were hoping for some breaks in the weather and maybe get some blue sky peaking through the low clouds and fog…  Near sunset, a few patches of blue sky poked through the clouds; however, the best was yet to come…  Here is a color and B&W panoramic depicting the amount of snow that fell throughout March 17, 2012…

 

 

 

 

Now, the trick was to get something to eat (which consisted of turkey lunchmeat, chobani, jerky, and protein bars)…  I met up with Jesse and Amanda in the Yosemite lodge bar before taking to the jeep for a night’s sleep…  No hassle from the Yosemite Park Police, as of yet…  The definitely have my number…  So I made it through the night without any incident involving law enforcement of any kind; however, I was waking up every 30 minutes to see if the snow was letting up…  I couldn’t believe it, the snow continued throughout the entire night, adding another six inches of snow…  I was really hoping for some amazing sunrise photos, but the weather was once again uncooperative in that department; however, the massive snow totals on the ground and in the trees was amazing…  I spent a few hours at Tunnel View before deciding that the clouds weren’t going to break and I was better off trying to find something else to shoot…

 

I decided to shoot the Merced River and the famous rocks that appear to be wearing “snow hats”…  As I made my way from Tunnel View, I was suddenly distracted by Bridalveil Creek…  I pulled the jeep off the side of the road, key is off the side of the road in a plowed turnout!  The rocks indeed hat “snow hats” and frazil ice was slowly flowing down the creek…  It was amazing…  I worked my back a few hundred yards from the road before returning to the jeep…  As I approached the jeep I noticed a plastic bag placed under my wind shield wiper…  “A parking ticket”, “Really”?  In conditions like this?  The ticket was for obstructing traffic and would set me back $175!  I was in a plowed turnout off the side of the road…  Anyway, I noticed the sky was beginning to clear up a bit, as the sun heated the ridge tops puffs of fog were breaking out all across the valley…  I knew I had to get back to tunnel view!  On way way around the valley loop I stopped to talk to a park policeman and described the situation…  His exact words were, “wow, that a tough ticket on a day like today”…  Well thanks sir, I appreciate the support; however, he was unable to do anything about it…  The fine Park Policeman suggested I talk to the Yosemite Valley judge…

 

 

 

 

I arrive at Tunnel View and the scene is amazing….  The fog playing hide-nseek with Half Dome and El Capitan, patches of deep blue sky peaking out in between the fog and low clouds, mounds of snow weighing the trees down, Bridalveil Falls flowing, and finally a break in the snow…  At this point tons of photographers and buses full of tourists are all taking in the unbelievable scene…  It was sort of ironic that a tour bus got stuck in the Tunnel View parking lot, which “obstructed” traffic for at least an hour, and received no traffic ticket!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The break in the snow lasted for only about 1.5 hours before it really starting dumping, again…  The 1.5 hour break allowed for some amazing photo opportunities… I held out for “sunset”; however, snow and clouds engulfed the entire valley…  It was quite an impressive storm to say the least…  With the snow coming down at a rate of about 2 inches an hour and not a chance of any good light in the valley I decide to pack up my gear and head home…  I have never in life had to pull over because snow was coming down so hard, but I could not see anything in front on me on Route 120 leaving the park…  What a great weekend and storm for photography!

 

Update: The extremely compassionate Yosemite National Park legal examiner has dismissed my ticket!

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