Winter into Spring and Summer of 2012

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 01 April 2013


Welcome to the Fall High Sierra Reports and Analysis

Below you will find the link to my analysis of the progress of the weather into the ultra-dry Winter of 2011-2012. This bone-dry Winter followed the Winter of 2010-2011, which was one of the wettest and snowiest for decades. The snowpack never totally cleared off the Sierra Crest during the Summer of 2011... 

Check out the Winter through Spring Thaw of 2012 article.

And, subesequently Winter has not come to the Sierra during the 2011-2012 season. No problem for me. I'm still recovering from injury incurred last Winter. Therefore I need your reports to get my hiking fix.


You can post up your notes and experiences on this page through the comments link below, or you can post up your own page about your trip in the Seasonal Reports Forum. Post up your experiences with these dustings of snow. Everyone freaks out... 

Oct 5: notes about various parts of the trail, see the Trails Forum.

My Status

I'm still recovering from an injury, so you guys can add to our knowledge through the comments link below, or as your own article in this, the  Seasnonal Conditions Reports Forum.

But I've plans to sneak in my first trip this Fall before the snows fall. Stay Tuned!.

Done: Late October Fall Scouting Trip: Carson-Iceberg Loop.



 Ouick Notes on the Winter of 2011-2012

More Information

Mid February:

A weak series of storm pulses out of the West-Northwest delivered almost no rain to the lowlands and little snow to the Sierra. There is little snow on the Sierra, and Californ/pHigh Sierra Ground Reporting Stations. Note that this cool graphical interface provides a wide range of weather data over a large geographical area over a long time span. This Information is adjustable out to 6 days into the future...The Map changes to represent the category you scroll over the list. METAR has received around 30% of normal Winter precipitation, at the most. Skies are now sunny and clear. The Spring bloom has begun in mid Feb.

My experiences here indicate that 1 in 3 dry winters are "bailed out" by fierce Spring tropical storm activity out of the Southwest. For some reason I don't feel that we are going to get "bailed-out" by Spring storms out of the South this year.

Jan 19: Weak but wet storms blowing directly out of the West, straight across the Pacific Ocean from China. These weak rainstorms have finally broken a month of dry weather through the heart of Wintertime.


Mid-February 2012

Temps and conditions at this point in time indicate to me that full Winter Gear can be lightened to your Spring/Fall gear kit. Though it's still early in the year, Spring conditions are establishing themselves.

Gear selection must be dependent on solid temp information. Monitor the reporting stations near your route to determine the actual temps, carefully scan the forecasts, weather maps, predictions, and satellite information for indications of changing conditions.

Always pack gear for the worse possible conditions while hoping for the best. Despite the warm weather and because of the clear conditions hikers are considerning early trips. Check ahead to see our future weather with the tools above. GOES shows the distant weather headed here, covering the entire US and the Pacific and Alantic Oceans. Nightime temps can still plunge to well below freezing. Though the skies say "June," it is still February, and conditions can still change rapidly.

January 6, 2012

At this point in Winter it is quite clear that Winter weight gear must replace your Fall gear kit. Don't let the clear skies and lack of snow fool you. It's getting Wintertime cold in the Sierra, and clear skies make for very cold nights. Winter temps have descended on the Sierra, even if Winter snows have not.

But here I'm concerned with providing you with the best information about Sierra weather and trail conditions possible. So you can anticipate the rapid changes in "trail" conditions that are now possible. My approach is to match my layering with the range of temps and conditions I anticipate. Check out the Gear page on the Trail guide and the Winter Gear Selection videos on YouTube.

Rapidly Changing Conditions?


Mid-February 2012

Fine conditions can draw backpackers to the mountains like moths to the flame. Don't get burned. Though temps are rising, the threat of dangerous storms still looms, and must be considered before undertaking any Winter Travel into the Sierra.

One big plume of super-heated moisture from East of Hawaii, or from South of Baja that swings North across the Sierra can deposit THREE FEET of snow in one evening.


January 5, 2012


Winter conditions are deepening, bringing cooler temps but not yet even a threat of significant snow to the Sierra Nevada as of January 5, 2012. To me this means that conditions in the Sierra can and will change rapidly.


Just wait until the South Pacific throws a mass of super-heated tropical mositure at the Sierra. Three feet of snow can fall in one night.


You will need to anticipate the possibility of snow obscuring the trail and terrain along with deep cold conditions requiring thicker gear. You must be prepared and geared for the physical difficulities of unexpected snow travel.


Seriously, these conditions "on the ground" could change in a heartbeat due to the low temps in the Sierra. Any moisture that blows up there will come down as snow. Local storms and flurries that are not connected to any major storm fronts are regular events. Though "local" weather is generally limited in power, these mini-storms can cover the terain with a light coat of snow and ice.




We saw Winter conditions persisting into Spring this year and Spring conditions pushed deep into the Summer in 2011. The Spring Thaw of 2011 page recorded the slow thaw of 2011.


These conditions made the Summer of 2011 one of the shortest backpacking seasons in recent memory? These aberrant weather patterns have continued into the Fall and Winter of 2011-2012, but this year we are noting the almost complete lack of precipitation, while last year we noted the intensity and length of the Winter season.


If these very strange conditions continue we may well see the earliest opening of the Pacific Crest Trail hiking season in decades. Maybe...

Happy Trails,

 Note: My editor is throwing random code into the text. I have a major update approaching (PHP 5), so I will iron this out then. Sorry!




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