For One Month Every Year This Yosemite Waterfall Transforms Into a “Firefall”

March 1, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Horsetail falls "firefall" at Yosemite National Park
Photo credit: Screen capture from video posted by ZitherFilmography

Conditions are just right this year!

For a few weeks in February, if the weather conditions are just right and the water is flowing in Horsetail Falls, you could be lucky enough to see it transform from a waterfall into a firefall — at least that’s what it looks like.

Luckily, this past February was a perfect one for photographers and park visitors.  Conditions were just right for spectators to view the amazing phenomenon, which lasts for just 10 minutes at sunset every day for a month.

And this year, thanks to heavy rains in Sierra Nevada, the waterfall in Yosemite National Park looked especially fiery.

SEE ALSO: The Cloud Formation That Resembles a Fireball in the Sky

“In the over 20 years I have been photographing the firefall and leading workshops there in Yosemite, I have never seen a more spectacular one,” Michael Mariant, a photographer from Morro Bay, California, who leads teaching trips to Yosemite told The New York Times.

So, what causes this optical illusion? First, there needs to be a lot of flowing water and thanks to El Niño, the region has seen plenty of both heavy rain and snow high in the Sierra Mountains.  The melting snow makes it down the mountains as the weather warms, and eventually reaches El Capitan (the vertical rock formation) where it then cascades to the valley below.

Second, the weather conditions need to be just right.  The skies have to be clear and the setting sun has to strike the water at an angle the creates the illusion of lava or fire.  Luckily, the position of the sun during the last few weeks of February was perfect.

Although the peak period to view the effect is over, it does depend on conditions for the year.  Park visitors and photographers have been lucky enough to see it both before and after February — it all depends on the amount of water flow and cloud cover.

It may be worth planning a trip to Yosemite National Park for some time in February.  This is a phenomenon I would definitely like to see with my own eyes — water on fire!

You can watch this short video of the firefalls by Youtube user ZitherFilmography.


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