November 30th Wind Storm Damage - Updates from the Inyo National Forest --Visitors Urged to Use Caution--
Release Date: Dec 16, 2011
A wind storm that blew through California on November 30 caused widespread damage to several areas of the Inyo National Forest and adjacent public lands. From Mount Whitney to Tioga Pass, thousands of trees were affected by the storm. The full extent of the damage is still unknown and is currently under assessment by the Forest Service.
Assessments have been completed in most developed recreation sites hit hard by the storm. The Mammoth Lakes Basin, Reds Meadow Valley and Whitney Portal were all impacted and cleanup efforts have begun in these areas. Priority is being given to opening roads for access, clearing roads to facilitate spring plowing operations, removing trees from structures, making repairs to utility services, and removing hazards that could affect winter developed recreation operations. With the unusually dry weather pattern, crews are making steady progress at addressing these priorities. If the current weather pattern holds, the Forest Service will make efforts to remove trees and hazards from summer developed recreation sites, trails, and service roads in an effort to minimize delays in opening spring and summer operations.
If visiting any of these areas, please use caution and be on the lookout for crews working to clear downed and hazardous trees. If visitors encounter cleanup crews, the Forest Service asks that you make these crews aware of your presence by yelling and waving until the crews see and recognize you and your fellow travelers. Visitor safety is of concern during these cleanup efforts. Please use caution.
The Forest Service also wants to alert the public to the possible hazards throughout other areas of the Inyo National Forest. While many trees were blown to the ground, just as many trees were partially blown over, were blown over but are now hung up in other trees, or have damaged root systems that have weakened the tree and may lead to future falling. These hazards exist in developed recreation sites, campgrounds, along trails, in parking areas, and in other undeveloped parts of the Forest. Visitors are urged to be especially careful when traveling through forested areas during moderate or high wind events.
When traveling through the Inyo National Forest, please keep safety utmost in your mind. Look up, look around, and be aware of your surroundings searching for trees hung up in other trees or leaning and ready to fall. As visitors travel through the Forest and encounter obstructed trails, damaged facilities, or hazards, the Forest Service is asking that these observations be reported at ranger stations or visitor centers.
If you have questions regarding storm damage, cleanup efforts, or the potential hazards that exist throughout the Forest, please contact one of the Inyo National Forest visitor centers or ranger stations. The Forest Service will continue to provide updates through press releases and on the Inyo National Forest web site www.fs.usda.gov/inyo.
The following area specific information is being provided to help visitors understand how their visit to the Inyo National Forest could be affected by the damage and the ongoing clean up efforts, and to help visitors understand the hazards they may encounter. This information is posted on the Inyo National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/inyo.
Mammoth Lakes Basin - Several parts of the Mammoth Lakes Basin were damaged by the wind event. The Mammoth Lakes Pack Station and surrounding area were hit the hardest, with between 300 and 400 trees fallen or partially fallen. Hazardous trees that have not yet fallen are found throughout the Lakes Basin, including within campgrounds, along the newly constructed Lakes Basin Path, and in summer parking areas. Most trees that fell in the Lakes Basin were Lodgepole Pine that ranged between 8" and 30" in diameter.
Some damage to structures occurred in the basin and all permit holders and recreation residence owners whose structures were damaged have been notified. Southern California Edison and Verizon have been working to restore power and phone service. They have focused on restoring services to facilities owned and operated by the Mammoth Community Water District, as power and communications are essential to their operations. As of December 15, power has been restored to most of the Lakes Basin. Periodic interruptions will continue as SCE installs new power poles and fixes lines.
Forest Service crews have removed fallen and hazardous trees along basin roads, and mitigated conflicts with Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center grooming operations. Interruptions to Tamarack Ski Area operations will be minimal, likely limited to one trail not being groomed this winter. Tamarack Ski Area should be contacted for additional information. The public is encouraged to stay out of the Mammoth Lakes Basin while repairs and tree removal efforts are underway. These efforts will cease once significant snow falls and Tamarack can begin grooming. At that time, the groomed trail system will be open and visitors are encouraged to stay on the groomed trail system to avoid potential hazards. Outside of these winter recreation routes, hazard trees will continue to exist throughout the winter and visitors should use extreme caution when traveling off groomed routes.
While most of the Lakes Basin is not closed to public use, the Forest Service is asking visitors to keep out of the area near the Mammoth Lakes Pack Station and to avoid areas where crews are working to clear downed trees and fall leaning trees.
The area with the most blow down is the Mammoth Lakes Pack Station. Pack Station owner John Summers is working with Mammoth Firewood to remove trees throughout his permit area in hopes of not interrupting his operating season. Trees fell on several buildings at the Pack Station; some received minor damage and one sustained substantial damage.
The Lower Falls Tract had numerous large trees fall on power lines, but no structures were damaged. Upper Falls Tract had several trees blown down and one summer home received minor damage. The Twin Lakes Area was hit fairly hard and three summer homes had trees on them and received minor damage. The Twin Lakes Campground has many trees down and many hazard trees hanging. Forest Service crews are working to fall hazards in this campground. Coldwater Creek and Heart Lake Trailheads have over 100 trees down, with restrooms at these trailheads receiving minor damage. Many trees fell in other areas in the Lakes Basin, including along the backside of Lake Mary, in the Lake George Campground, and near the Lake Maime outlet.
Most roads in the Lakes Basin have been cleared and are ready for spring snow removal, however campground openings for the summer of 2012 may be delayed until hazard trees can be fallen and removed.
The number of down trees past the trailheads and into the wilderness is unknown at this time.
Reds Meadow Valley – An enormous number of trees have fallen throughout the Reds Meadow Valley, many of them in the 2-3 foot diameter range, with some 4 feet or over. Over 100 trees fell across the Reds Meadow Road and the full extent of the road damage is currently being assessed. Structures at Reds Meadow Resort, Reds Meadow Campground, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Agnew Meadows Campground were hit by trees and damaged. All campgrounds, trails, and trailheads have downed or partially downed trees that need to be removed.
Species of downed trees vary, but it seems that most downed trees are red and white fir. There are a few areas of lodgepole blowdown lower in the valley in campgrounds. Many of the trees have fallen on steep slopes and present logistical and safety challenges.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area worked with Forest Service staff to clear a path down the Reds Meadow Road to facilitate access for cleanup efforts and to ensure the ability of snow-cats to rescue lost skiers and snowboarders. Mammoth Mountain, the Forest Service, the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and the National Park Service are all working together to clear roadways to minimize interference with spring snow removal operations.
The Town of Mammoth Lakes is providing assistance with heavy equipment on days that Forest Service engineering crews must use their equipment elsewhere. The number of down and hazardous trees present has prevented the Forest Service from entering some of the campgrounds and recreation sites. Assessments continue and Forest Service crews will be taking advantage of the weather window to clear secondary roads and gather information that will help determine how to best deal with the large volume of downed trees.
Given the extent of damage and the number of trees that need to be removed, there is a high probability that the spring opening of the Reds Meadow Road and Reds and Agnew Valley Campgrounds, trails, and day use facilities will be delayed.
The winter closure of the Reds Road is currently in place at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. However, the road and valley remain open to visitors wanting to hike in, but use is strongly discouraged at this time given the hazards that exist and the cleanup efforts that are ongoing. Many hazards will persist through the winter and winter visitors are strongly encouraged to consider the hazards in the area and use extreme caution.
Whitney Portal - The Whitney Portal Area, including the Mount Whitney Trailhead, suffered damage due to numerous trees that have fallen or been weakened by the wind. Final damage totals continue to be tallied as crews are able to clear and safely enter hazardous areas. To date it is calculated that over 20-30 trees were downed or affected by the storm, possibly more. No observed damage to the Whitney Portal Summer Home tract has been reported.
Cleanup efforts are now focused on removing downed and hazardous trees affecting the developed recreation area that is currently being used or that will be used this winter. As weather allows, additional cleanup efforts will commence in developed recreation sites used during spring and summer months, such as campgrounds and trailheads.
The public is advised against visiting the Whitney Portal Area while cleanup efforts are in progress. The possible hazard of falling trees and/or falling branches in that area is very real. Some areas have been temporarily posted “closed” with caution or warning tape, or with signs. It is illegal to enter these posted areas.
The Portal Road is closed at this time of year by the Inyo County Road Department.
What was with these winds?
While the Sierra Nevada forests are accustomed to strong winds, the November 30 wind storm blew from the north steadfast and strong. New weather instruments at the top of Mammoth Mountain were unable to record gusts past 150 mph, which were numerous. The National Weather Service used several area weather stations to calculate that gusts on the top of Mammoth Mountain exceeded 180 mph and wind speeds did not drop below 120 mph for over three hours. Wind storms of this magnitude do occur in the Sierra Nevada on a somewhat regular basis, but very rarely do they come from the north. The trees in this area have grown and adapted to fighting strong westerly winds. Inspection of the root systems of many of the trees that were blown over on November 30 reveals larger, thicker and more numerous roots on the south, southwest, west, and northwest sides of the trees. Roots on the north to southeast sides of the trees are fewer and thinner. The unusual direction and magnitude of this wind event overwhelmed the root system of many trees, resulting in widespread blow down.