Famous Giant Sequoia Topples in California Storm

NX1Z via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NX1Z via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Northern California’s famed Pioneer Cabin Tree, a giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park that was carved out to form a tunnel big enough to drive through, fell down during a recent rainstorm, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGATE. The tree had been a tourist destination for more than a century.

In the late 19th century, the owners of the Calaveras North Grove carved out the tunnel in the tree in response to a similar tree tunnel in Yosemite that was drawing visitors away from Calaveras. The tree was chosen because a large fire scar already prevented a tree top from growing [PDF]. At one point, the park even allowed cars to drive through the tree, but recently only hikers have been allowed to pass through its trunk.

The tree toppled over around 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, January 8 during a heavy rainstorm. Sequoias have shallow roots, and the trail around it was completely flooded, likely resulting in its fall. The tree "shattered" on impact, according to a park volunteer who witnessed the incident.

It’s not that unusual for giant sequoias to fall over unexpectedly, especially in soggy ground. In 2011, two giant sequoia trees, each around 1500 years old, fell over along the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, destroying that section of the trail. The Yosemite tunnel tree that sparked the carve-out of the Calaveras tree in the 1880s, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, collapsed in 1969. The Los Angeles Times reports that most old sequoias die by falling, especially when wet soil combines with their extreme weight to tip over an already-leaning tree. The Pioneer Cabin Tree had been leaning for several years prior to its fall.

[h/t SFGATE]

Storm Leaves Homes Along Lake Erie Covered in Up To Three Feet of Ice

Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
John Normile/Getty Images

This past weekend, lakeside residents of Hamburg, New York, awoke to find their neighborhood transformed into a full-scale replica of Frozen’s ice-covered kingdom, Arendelle.

According to CNN, gale force winds produced giant waves that sprayed the houses along Lake Erie with sheets of water for two days straight, covering them in layers of ice up to three feet thick.

“It looks fake, it looks surreal,” Hamburg resident Ed Mis told CNN. “It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.”

While the homeowners are anxious for the ice to melt, they’re also concerned about what could happen when it does.

“We’re worried about the integrity, of structure failure when it starts to melt, because of the weight on the roof,” Mis said.

He added that this is the worst ice coating he’s seen since he moved to the area eight years ago—but it’s not because they’ve had a particularly harsh winter. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to The Detroit News, warm winter temperatures have caused ice cover on the Great Lakes to drop from 67 percent in 2019 to less than 20 percent this year.

“Lake Erie typically has significant ice cover by this time of the year, and that protects the shoreline from these battering storms,” The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert Tom Niziol explained in a video.

The phenomenon has created another unforeseen issue for Hamburg’s coast, too: Tourism. The local police department posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, March 1, asking people to keep off both the “extremely unsafe and unstable” ice and people's private property.

[h/t CNN]

What is Lake-Effect Snow?

Tainar/iStock via Getty Images
Tainar/iStock via Getty Images

As you probably guessed, you need a lake to experience lake-effect snow. The primary factor in creating lake-effect snow is a temperature difference between the lake and the air above it. Because water has a high specific heat, it warms and cools much more slowly than the air around it. All summer, the sun heats the lake, which stays warm deep into autumn. When air temperatures dip, we get the necessary temperature difference for lake-effect snow.

As the cool air passes over the lake, moisture from the water evaporates and the air directly above the surface heats up. This warm, wet air rises and condenses, quickly forming heavy clouds. The rate of change in temperature as you move up through the air is known as the "lapse rate"; the greater the lapse rate, the more unstable a system is—and the more prone it is to create weather events.

Encountering the shore only exacerbates the situation. Increased friction causes the wind to slow down and clouds to "pile up" while hills and variable topography push air up even more dramatically, causing more cooling and more condensation.

The other major factors that determine the particulars of a lake-effect snowstorm are the orientation of the wind and the specific lake. Winds blowing along the length of a lake create greater "fetch," the area of water over which the wind blows, and thus more extreme storms like the one currently pummeling the Buffalo area. The constraints of the lake itself create stark boundaries between heavy snow and just a few flurries and literal walls of snow that advance onto the shore. The southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes are considered "snow belts" because, with winds prevailing from the northwest, these areas tend to get hit the hardest.

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