Monday, December 23, 2013

Four Terrifying Pictures from Northern California

Here are a couple of scenes from our road trip this Christmas. Does the tagline seem a bit incendiary? It should be. Sure, there are three pictures of active volcanoes, but that isn't what makes them scary. We are looking at Mt. Shasta, the 14,000 foot high volcano that looms over northern California (above), and Shastina, the parasitic cone on Shasta's flank (below). What's terrifying? It's late December, and there is only a light dusting of snow. This mountain should be coated in snow from the high peaks to the low flanks. The road I was on should have been closed by snow drifts.
California is in the midst of a three year drought that shows no signs of abating. By some accounts, the last twelve months have been the driest in the state's history since at least 1895. They are having to fight fires in December in places like Big Sur, a region that should get feet of rain each year. Two years ago, I was able to drive over Tioga Pass, 9,950 feet high, after New Year's Day.
Castle Crags State Park in the Klamath Mountains. These should be covered in snow too.
A worrisome pattern is developing. Three bad years in a row, and in the desert southwest, thirteen years of drought. Some climate scientists are suggesting that we may have to adapt to a megadrought, an event that has happened here twice in the last thousand years. These droughts lasted decades, and caused huge changes in places like Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe. Entire rivers dried up. I hope that won't be the case, but are we prepared in any way to deal with it if that is the case?
A snow-free Mt. Lassen from near Redding

I hope it isn't what's going on. I hope that a whopper of a storm will move in, and that we will get a breather from the dry conditions. But we need to be ready if it doesn't. Some hard choices may have to be made.