Horsetail Falls 2016 Update

Horsetail Falls, 2016 Update

It’s now the middle of February and we’re starting to see photos of the Horsetail Falls Fire Falls event stampeed onto social media. The wet winter we’ve had in California has meant that Horsetail Falls is flowing in a way that it hasn’t in ~5 years. Here’s an update on how I see things progressing for the next week.

There are going to be amazing opportunities to photograph the falls. Everything is looking great!

There are a number of photos already being posted online with some beautiful shots of Horsetail. Lets reminder ourselves what dates are good:

Horsetail Falls Sunset 2016 Prediction
Horsetail Falls Sunset 2016 Prediction

On February 12th, Horsetail lit up for 3 minutes. By February 22nd, it will light up for 12 minutes, a much longer window. That number will shrink down to 5 minutes by February 27th. While you can certainly go and shoot it now, your window of opportunity increases by Sunday/Monday, and then shrinks again.

Weather Outlook

As you can see from Nam Ing’s photo on Flickr, there’s plenty of snow on top of El Capitan. That snow will continue to feed Horsetail Falls. Additionally, a big storm is coming in today, February 17th, and will dump between 11″ – 18″ on top of El Capitan. El Capitan sits at ~7,500 feet elevation, and snow levels are expected to be in the 7,000ft – 7,300ft elevation.

The additional 1-1.5ft of snow will make for a great flow in the falls … especially since the weather warms up over the weekend.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday all have clear skies. There is a chance of partly cloudy skies on Friday, so you’ll want to monitor the clouds on Friday if you plan on going.

Snow Forecast for Badger Pass, from OpenSnow.com
Expected weather at Badger Pass, from Open Snow

Also notice how the weather warms up on Sunday and Monday, into the mid to upper 50’s; this is great for the flow of Horsetail as it means all that snow from Wednesday/Thursday will start to melt a bit quicker and increase Horsetail.

Sunday and Monday should be great times to see and photograph Horsetail Falls.

Other Considerations

I expect traffic to absolutely insane in Yosemite on Sunday. Crowds have already been large and Sunday should be no exception. Plan on arriving early to both find parking and grab your spot. I recommend bringing a chair and some food, and maybe a good book to keep you company.

For other tips on how to shoot the falls, see my blog post: http://blog.aaronmphotography.com/2015/12/20/horsetail-falls-2016-yosemite-national-park/

Aaron M Written by:

Aaron Meyers is a landscape and wedding photographer living in Silicon Valley, CA. His love of the outdoors makes for frequent forays into the Californian wilds, where he delights in the stunning vistas of Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, and the Pacific Coast.

2 Comments

  1. February 17, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Aaron – Thanks so much for the timely information! Just wanted to mention that I almost missed a spectacular display last Saturday as I had assumed that Feb 13 was outside of the official window for getting the firefall effect on Horsetail. My buddies and I were blown away by the amount of mist billowing up from the fall, catching the light. This is my 6th year of shooting Horsetail and I’ve never seen anything like this. On Feb 12 we were shut out by clouds, but on Feb 13 things really lit up while we were shooting on the North side, Looking at my time stamps, the orange began on Feb 13 at 5:13 PM and the red showed up right at the end for about 3 minutes just before all the light was gone at 5:38 PM. I know that the light only gets better after Feb 13, but I’m just trying to get the word out that we almost missed out on the best conditions we’ve ever seen had my friends booked a later weekend and clouds moved in. Just a suggestion to consider changing Feb 13 to “good” or at least “decent” as the right conditions can really make Horsetail come alive, even at that early date. The one variable I think some of us are not considering is water flow and mist. In a normal year, a tiny trickle wouldn’t have been much to look at on Feb 13, but with the steady flow and incredible amounts of mist last Saturday, it was like I was experiencing it for the first time. My shot is up on my flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtsacprof/24948807692 and I’ve also updated my blog post from a couple weeks ago as well. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything at all last weekend and was shocked by the amount of mist and color. For the first time, my buddies and I preferred the North side…as did about 300 other photographers (I;ve never seen crowds like this!) . My shot was taken about a 1/2 mile East of the picnic area and further up North from the road in order to get more mist against the shadowed cliff behind. Thanks again for your info! I have a feeling that this year is only going to get better!

    • Aaron M
      February 17, 2016
      Reply

      You’re very right William! It’s interesting to see that you pretty much confirmed my calculations, though my timing was off by about 10 minutes.

      I’ll do a better job of clarifying what I mean by “good, better, and best” in the future; they really mean the amount of time that the falls will light up and how much of a “wet wall” vs a “fire falls” the event will have.

      Early on, like on Feb 13, the light is much further west, giving the wall a “wet wall” feel. By the end of the event, the light moves east, casting most of its glow on the falls and on the hump in front of horsetail. You very correctly moved east, so that you minimized the amount of “wet wall” that was in your composition and focused your photo on the mist. The most popular locations are more west, and would suffer early on from having a more wet wall look, and thus why I don’t consider them “good” quite yet. All of the times listed here, though, will have a firey falls, especially on one with a lot of mist.

      Your photo is absolutely stunning. Well done! If you’re there next weekend, come find me!

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