California's Yosemite, Sierra Nevada show warming's effect

Standing atop Yosemite's tallest peak in August 1950, Hal Klieforth looked out across the Lyell glacier and marveled at how solid and unyielding it appeared.

"It was like Grand Canyon or the Sierra itself," the 81-year-old meteorologist said recently. "It had been there for many years and probably would be there for many more."

Today, as the boulder-strewn sheet of ice recedes in the summer sun, Klieforth is no longer so confident. "Now I guess there might be more people making a pilgrimage to these glaciers before they go," he said.

No longer is climate change a distant drama of shrinking polar ice caps. As year-round ice fades from the saw-toothed summits of the Sierra Nevada, as Klieforth and others watch a world change in their lifetimes, it's clear an unwelcome reality is at our doorstep: Global warming is local warming.

Just as rising worldwide temperatures are sowing problems in the far north and parts of Antarctica, so, too, are they bringing big changes to our own northern exposure in the Sierra and other mountain regions.

You can see it in the dead rust-red pines west of Yosemite National Park, the fading easel of wildflowers near Carson Pass south of Lake Tahoe and the parched bare banks of lakes and reservoirs. You can smell it in the acrid ash-gray smoke from a siege of early-season wildfires that has choked much of the region for weeks on end.

You can hear it in the quiet murmur of small streams that once rushed noisily downhill in July; in the whoosh of cars over Tioga Pass after Thanksgiving – a time when the white-knuckle road crossing, the highest in California, was always closed by snow prior to 1975; and in the voices and observations of scientists, resource managers and mountain residents.

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