Just to prove what they say about how quickly conditions can change on Mount Rainier, here’s a comparison of what I saw on a drive up to Paradise on Friday, when it was pouring rain up there (right), versus what was showing this sunny Monday afternoon on the park’s webcam (below).
What it hasn’t been doing much on the mountain is snowing. As elsewhere in the Cascades this winter, Rainier is having a low-snow year.
“Lately we’ve been losing more snow than we’ve been gaining,” the park ranger told me as I passed through the Mount Rainier National Park entry gate on Friday. With the current warm front passing through, the freezing level has risen above the climber’s base camp at 10,188-foot Camp Muir.
Paradise, at 5,400 feet, once held the world record for measured snowfall in a single year — 1,122 inches over the winter of 1971-72. The average annual snowfall is 643 inches. As of my Friday visit, Paradise still didn’t have the 60 inches of snow on the ground required to open the snow-play area (with sufficient snow cover to protect the fragile alpine meadows).
There is enough snow to snowshoe at Paradise, but on Friday it was hard, compacted and icy, so conditions have been poor for recreation.
Despite Monday’s sunshine, never be complacent when you head up the mountain. Snow may return to Paradise by Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service. To get a look at current conditions, see the park’s webcams.