Winter made an early appearance Tuesday morning when snow fell on Sonora Pass and the craggy, highest heights of east Tuolumne County.
Michael Todd Jones of Sonora was driving to work in the Bishop area, heading east up Highway 108 to the top of the 9,624-foot pass, the second-highest paved route over the Sierra Nevada range.
With snowflakes coming down, dusting the ground and clinging to trees in the 6 a.m. hour, Jones used his iPhone 6 to snap a couple photos and texted them to his wife, Allison Jones, who was 65 miles west, down the hill in Sonora.
“I processed them through Instagram and posted them to my Facebook page,” Allison Jones said in phone interview.
The sight of fresh snowfall high in the Central Sierra before mid-September impressed a lot of people on social media, and by Tuesday afternoon hundreds of people had shared the photos by Michael Todd Jones.
One version of Michael’s photo, posted to a Facebook page called Tuolumne County Weather Event and Information Feed, got shared more than 1,700 times before 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“Apparently the photo is so popular there’s no credit on there sometimes,” Allison Jones said. “But that’s the way social media works. I didn’t put a watermark on it.”
All passes over the Central Sierra crest, including Highways 4, 108 and 120, remained open Tuesday, according to Caltrans.
At the top of Sonora Pass, scattered rain and snow showers were likely Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday night before 11 p.m., according to National Weather Service forecasters in Sacramento. The overnight low for Sonora Pass was expected to dip below freezing to 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
Daytime highs for Sonora Pass the rest of this week are expected to climb from the mid-50s on Wednesday to the low 60s by Saturday.
Down the hill in Sonora and other Mother Lode towns, people can expect daytime highs to climb from the high 70s Wednesday to the high 80s by Saturday, with overnight lows in the 50s to low 60s.
In the past decade, the earliest date Sonora Pass has closed for the winter was Oct. 17, 2004, Skip Allum with Caltrans District 10 said Tuesday. The latest date the pass closed for winter was Jan. 1, 2012. Last year, Caltrans workers closed Sonora Pass for winter on Nov. 27, 2015.
Caltrans maintenance personnel in Long Barn confirmed there was a light dusting of snow over Sonora Pass early Tuesday on the 108, but no snow was visible or remaining later in the morning, Allum said.
Asked about other Central Sierra passes, Allum said there were no reports Tuesday of snowfall at other mountain passes.
Pass closings are contingent on how much snow an area receives, current weather and road conditions, Allum said. It’s up to maintenance supervisors for each area to determine if roads are safe for motorists.
There are no specific amount of funds designated for snow removal for particular locations, including passes, Allum said. Caltrans has a policy that once one foot of snow or more is on a road at or near its highest point, that pass will be closed for the winter.
Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada
It also snowed Tuesday morning at Kirkwood Mountain Resort on Highway 88 on the west side of Carson Pass, according to the National Weather Service.
People at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, northeast of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, touted their ““First snow of the season! 9.13.16” with a video on Facebook.
People at SnowBrains.com, who bill themselves as “a couple of guys from California who do nothing but ski, mountain bike, surf, study, write, and travel,” reveled in the early snowfall Tuesday and posted on their website “It’s still technically summer.”
That statement appeared just above the Sonora Pass photo that prompted so many reactions on Facebook.
Michael Todd Jones, who took the snow photos at the top of Sonora Pass, does decorative concrete work on both sides of the Sierra Nevada.
By Tuesday afternoon, Allison Jones had texted to him about how popular at least one of his photos was but she hadn’t heard back.
“He is aware of it,” Allison Jones said. “He hasn’t had a chance to text me back yet. I let him know how much attention his photo is getting.”
Allison Jones said she is excited and grateful about the possibility of an early winter.
“I think it’s a sign of hope because of the drought,” she said. “You know we need a cold wet winter. Not just to get through the drought but to kill the bark beetles. I’m ready for fall and winter. I’m tired of 90-degree days."