Weeks before I moved to Sacramento, people warned me about the summertime heat. But I’ll admit, I was wholly unprepared for the first time the temperature shot above 100 degrees.
In a fit of sweaty desperation, I asked a colleague: “What does one do here in the summer? Other than camp out in an air conditioned room and watch fireworks on the Fourth of July?”
Float down the American River on an innertube, I was told. Go for hikes and bike rides in the Sierra. Find secret swimming holes in other, rocky rivers. Go boating on Folsom Lake and catch a breeze on Stinson Beach. These are the true Northern California ways to spend the dog days of summer.
Well, maybe not this summer.
Just when I was starting to get into the swing of things, climate change has switched it all up. The massive precipitation that mercifully ended California’s drought has proved to be a bit of a double-edged sword. There’s snow where there shouldn’t be snow. Water where there shouldn’t be water. And extreme heat where it should be just be hot – which has been its own kind of hell for commercial airlines trying send planes into the sky in thinner air.
Thanks to climate change, the list of things I can’t – or really shouldn’t – do this summer has suddenly gotten very long.
The American River? Not the brightest of ideas lately. Last month, I wandered over to the American River Parkway and noticed that the water was both super-high and moving super-fast.
The record-breaking snowpack in the Sierra is now melting and has caused unpredictable river conditions. The water is so cold and the undercurrent so strong that authorities have warned it’s even too much for strong, experienced swimmers.
In May, 19-year-old Raymond Cabalfin drowned after jumped into the river following a hike along Lake Clementine Trail near Auburn. A video posted on Facebook shows the tragic moment the Sacramento teen was swept away. He’s one of nearly 20 people who have drowned this year in California rivers.
The record-breaking snowpack in the Sierra is now melting and has caused unpredictable river conditions.
Even over Memorial Day weekend, when people in Sacramento County usually flock to the rivers, county and city officials decided to close a number of beaches, including Discovery Park, at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.
“Most Memorial Days, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people would be out there,” Jim Remick, an instructor for the Drowning Accident Rescue Team, told The Bee in May. “But it took us a good 5 miles (up the American River) before we saw groups of people.”
The Yuba River? Don’t even think about it.
In June, the California Department of Parks and Recreation warned would-be swimmers to stay away because of higher flows from Sierra snowmelt. Even sections that seem calm could prove dangerous because of the undertow and the temperature of the water.
At least three people have drowned in the Yuba River so far this year, including 33-year-old Yoav Timmer, who died meditating face-down in the water near Nevada City.
A ranger with the Tahoe National Forest recommended that visitors visit lakes, rather than rivers. But Folsom Lake? That has challenges, too.
Until recently, Folsom was clogged with debris brought down with snowmelt, making it tough for boaters to maneuver. Contractors operating tugboats and tractors were supposed to be done clearing it by Memorial Day weekend, but work was still going on in June.
And then there’s Yosemite National Park. Warnings about treacherous conditions abound on Facebook. Where the trails are usually clear by now, there’s still snow and ice at higher elevations. The same is true along the Pacific Crest Trail, where more than a few hikers have nearly lost their lives this year trying to traverse deep fields of snow and freezing mountain streams.
Heading into the Fourth of July, things finally are starting to get back to normal.
Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite finally reopened to cars, bikers and hikers, although there’s still no cell service and no option for getting gas. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park also just reopened after nearly a year of being closed because of damage from fire and winter storms.
Here in Sacramento, the American River once again looks floatable – maybe.
But for all of my complaints about climate change, there’s at least one welcome side effect: skiing.
With hundreds of feet of snow, Californians have been taking to the slopes in T-shirts and shorts, and even swimwear. Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley will remain open through Fourth of July weekend.
Bring on the multisport days: Skiing in the morning. Golfing in the afternoon. Swimming in the evening – in a very full, but very cold Lake Tahoe. Talk about a quintessential Northern California day.
“It’s having the drought and then all of sudden having more water than we know what to do with,” said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association.
Welcome to the new normal in the era of climate change.