"I think it's way too early to start planning for August based on the weather in January."
Clearly somebody who has the option to wait until later to plan their weather-dependent hikes ought to wait. But sometimes that's not possible. For example, Jim and I got our airplane tickets for an Alps 2014 hike in December - because we fly on frequent flier miles and those tickets are very limited. Even in December we were very limited in what dates we could fly in the April-June timeframe. If overseas readers are making plans for a 2014 Sierra hike, they may well be choosing dates right now. If I were forced to choose now on timing for a Sierra trip, I'd absolutely consider the drought. And if somebody wants to place a bet on the intensity of the fire season, sign me up.
We've taken perhaps 50 backpacking trips in the High Sierra, and we are highly averse to mosquitoes, so we plan our trips around them. We have been pretty satisfied with this guidance:
- Average snowpack, mosquitoes are not a problem by Aug 15.
- Low snowpack, mosquitoes are not a problem by Aug 1.
- Very high snowpack, we wait until September.
We've already had two consecutive dry years. In 2013 I took a High Sierra hike in mid-July and had almost no mosquitoes. That would NOT be the case in a normal year.
The chances that we'll have a normal snowpack year are effectively zero now. We are normally at 50% of average maximum snowpack. And we're currently sitting at only 10% of what we normally have on Jan 16. The 10 day forecast is warm and dry. Record-breaking warm. We only have 10-14 weeks of rainy season left, so 10 days represents a good chunk of the possible recovery time.
W.R.T. fire season, the soil is already so dry due to two years of sub-normal rain, and the fuel on the ground is so dry, that as of right now there's actually a fire warning in effect. This is just completely abnormal, in a way that might be hard for folks who don't live in a Mediterranean climate to viscerally appreciate. The NWS forecast discussion as I write this says:
.FIRE WEATHER...PER REMOTE WEATHER SITES THERE ARE MANY SINGLE DIGIT
HUMIDITY REPORTS AND LIGHT OFFSHORE WINDS 5 TO 15 MPH OVER INTERIOR
MONTEREY AND SAN BENITO COUNTIES AS WELL AS OVER THE SOUTHERN SALINAS
VALLEY. CRITICALLY FIRE WEATHER BEHAVIOR INCLUDING DRY FUELS...LOW
HUMIDITIES AND LIGHT OFFSHORE WINDS PROMPTS A RED FLAG WARNING VALID
TIL NOON PST FRIDAY.
We are all, obviously, hoping for some sort of recovery. Unlike the mid-west and east, where rain is possible all year, we really don't have that much time left. I keep thinking, OK the 10-day forecast is for warm and sunny, but certainly winter will arrive on day 11. But I've been thinking that now for 8 weeks, and so far so bad.
Keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping that in two weeks we'll have a favorable update in this thread :)