The mixed blessing of record low snowpack along the West Coast is that access to national parks is earlier than usual – in some cases, far earlier.
National parks, from North Cascades in Washington state to Yosemite in California, are already are virtually at summer access levels.
The price, of course, are drought conditions leading to emergency measures, particularly in California. The record low snowpacks are widely attributed to climate change.
California’s snowpack was measured at a stunning 6 percent of normal on April 1, the usual highpoint of the state’s snowpack. Snowpack is 17 percent of normal in Washington, which has declared drought conditions in almost half the state. Oregon also called for drought relief in several counties after the state had a snowpack 16 percent of normal.
The Tioga Road, the popular east-west crossing of the Sierra Nevada, opens for the season in Yosemite National Park on Monday, May 4. Yosemite opened hiking access to iconic Half Dome on Saturday, May 2, three weeks ahead of schedule, due to low snowack.
Mount Rainier National Park lifted its snow chain requirements for the popular Longmire-Paradise Road on Friday, May 1. Almost a month earlier, the park opened Chinook and Cayuse Passes, the earliest opening for Chinook and second-earliest for Cayuse.
Lack of snow depth forced Mount Rainier National Park to keep closed for the winter the snowplay area at Paradise, typically open from December to March.
To the north, the North Cascades Highway, the main thoroughfare through North Cascades National Park, was opened on April 3, its earliest opening since 2005.
At Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, snow depth was a record-low 28 inches, leading to road and lodging openings up to months earlier than usual. The West Rim Drive of the park’s Rim Road is open and is open for 11 miles by foot or bike, all the way to Cleetwood Cove Trailhead. The park’s North Entrance is on track to be open by Memorial Day Weekend (March 23-25).
Seven western states — Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — experienced their warmest average temperatures from January through March since record-keeping began in 1895, a 121-year period, according to the Climate Prediction Center.