What a week we have had here in Mount Shasta! In one week we have had unusually intense heat and a blazing wildfire as well as epic lightning storms and fresh snow on Mount Shasta. It’s been wild, that’s for sure. I’m pressed for time before I head down to Sonoma County and Carmel for a while, so I am going to consign this post to a bunch of pictures and some brief commentary.
First off, the McKinney Fire blazed to life on Friday, towards the end of the hottest week I have ever experienced in Mount Shasta. Temperatures well over 100 degrees lasted for a few days. It was no surprise when the fire started (it just felt like one had to pop up somewhere!) but the speed with which it grew was sobering. It began on Friday afternoon and by the next morning it was up to 12,000 acres. It doubled again the next day and again by Sunday. Much of Yreka was evacuated and the whole town west of I-5 was on evacuation warning (that’s most of the city).
Down here in Mount Shasta, we were a ways away from the fire but we were not spared from the heat. Still, strange things were afoot, as rain fell in some areas. I kept hoping that the sky would really open up and it would just dump rain but the heat lingered and the thunderstorm that seemed to be building never came.
With no rain or cooler temps coming, things continued to bake around Mount Shasta. The snow that had managed to cling valiantly on the mountain was withering to just a few white patches and streaks. Still, there was more snow on the mountain now than there was at the end of June last year. It still looked bare and the heat threatened to swiftly take what was left. Then the smoke from the McKinney Fire started to drift in and it began to feel like some of the darker times from last summer might be on the verge of returning.
On Saturday I headed up the mountain to take stock of how things looked. I never tire of heading up the slopes of Mount Shasta, especially when the light really draws out the mountain’s braided folds. This trip up was no different and it was nice to get out of the rapidly increasing smoke.
The Old Ski Bowl was particularly nice. While the valley down below sweltered near 100 degrees, it was 71 near the treeline. The conditions were perfect for enjoying a cool summer sunset. The wildflowers are really nice at the Old Ski Bowl right now and even though a lot of folks congregate there, there is always a quiet corner that you can retreat to and enjoy the scenery.
On my way home, I caught the last bit of sun lighting up the fringe of the pyrocumulus cloud that was rising above the McKinney Fire. It was a reminder of how dry things are and how dangerous that fire had become.
The next morning I headed out to the Shasta Valley, to try to get a sense of how smoky things were getting. The sunrise around Mount Shasta was uninspiring but the sun’s glow near the Whaleback was lovely. The valley itself was hazy but not too smoky at the south end. The north end was a different matte and the smoke looked dense. The next day, a little rain fell during the night, but not more than a sprinkle.
Tuesday afternoon, however, the situation changed completely. The sky was ripped open and a deluge of magnificent proportion poured down on Mount Shasta. There were 100’s of lightning strikes and the thunder boomed constantly. Several inches fell throughout the area (over 2 at my house but more reported elsewhere). In the midst of the downpour, the sky cleared enough for Mount Shasta to be visible. I could see fresh snow on the mountain’s higher reaches! I was stunned to see new snow on the mountain in August!
On Wednesday morning, I headed back out to the valley to see how the mountain looked. The storm had brought an incredible amount of precipitation to the area. Although warm and drying quickly, everything remained damp from yesterday’s storm. Notably, Whitney Creek had flooded and caused Highway 97’s closure.
Though clouds continued to linger around the summit of Mount Shasta, it was possible to see a thin layer of fresh snow on the band of cliffs below the clouds and above the Whitney Glacier. I remain shocked by the arrival of new snow on the mountain in August. Even crazier, to think that new snow fell only a few days after it had been 104 degrees. That is an incredible temperature swing!
Fog was present all over the Shasta Valley, as the moisture from the rain lingered. While the lightning from the storm was dangerous, the copious rain was a welcome addition to the weather and really created a break that allowed the firefighters on the McKinney Fire to start to get a handle on the blaze.
This afternoon brought another thunderstorm with more hard rain. So much water had fallen in the last few days that the entire area around Mount Shasta seemed hazy from all the moisture in the air. Along with the light layer of smoke from the fire, the moisture seemed to form a weird atmospheric stew. It did provide beautiful colors at sunset though, which is worth something, at least. The massive amount of rain was a blessing totally unlooked for but has been absolutely welcome. I am grateful for its provision, for the space it has created to contain the fire and for all the incredible beauty that has come along with it!
It certainly has been quite the start to August, going from super hot to unseasonably cool in very short order. I am hopeful that the rest of the summer will be more moderate and that the fall will bring copious amounts of rain. Regardless of whether that happens, this summer has been unusually wet and that has been a huge blessing!