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Jonathan Stull | 04.01.2017

On March 6, whiteout conditions east of San Francisco on I-80 forced the closure of the highway as feet of snow continued to fall—it’s been that kind of winter throughout the West. Snowpack levels are high all over the West, and levels at most measurement stations in the Lower 48—especially those west of the Rockies—report snowpack levels that exceed 110% of their annual average. In the Sierra, snowpack measured in February exceeded 170% of annual average with two weeks left in the rainy season, and levels continue to hover in that range. The drought in the West may not be over, but this winter’s weather will certainly help to relieve some of the pressure. 

Likewise, adventures in and around the snow-laden mountain valleys can expect to see certain trends. Swelling streams in the spring mean stronger waterfalls. Snows that persist in the mountains lengthen the skiing and snowboarding season. Heavy winter rains coax wildflower “super blooms” in California and the desert southwest, like that which began in early March. Before adventuring this spring, be sure to check your plans against the fallout of a heavy winter.

Wildflower Blooms

Wet winters encourage spring blooms in dramatic fashion. As a rule, wildflowers follow the last melt, and with heavier amounts of snow in the mountains, this may push wildflower blooms later into the spring months. This certainly isn’t the case everywhere. A wet winter in Southern California has sparked a super bloom of a magnitude the state hasn’t seen in over a decade. The desert rarely experiences this kind of transformation, which only occurs in years of heavy winter precipitation. The super bloom, which began in early March, is still in full effect at several parks and preserves around the region, but don’t wait for too long. Anza-Borrego State Park is perhaps most notorious for wildflower displays, where wildflowers can be seen along Hellhole Canyon Trail and Borrego Palm Canyon.

Other spring wildflower hikes:

Spring Waterfalls

Heavy snow this winter means that the waterfalls will rage in the spring, of course, but with more snow in the mountains, you can expect these stronger flows to last deeper into the spring and summer. 

For a roundup of spring waterfalls, check out 35 Must-See Waterfalls This Spring.


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