The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range located in the western region of the United States. It is part of the larger American Cordillera chain of mountain ranges. The range, whose name means "snowy saw range" in Spanish, is situated between the Great Basin and the Central Valley of California. Most of the range lies within the state of California, although the Carson Range, which is a spur of the larger range, is located primarily within the state of Nevada. Other names for the range include the Sierra, the Range of Light, and the High Sierra. The Sierra Nevada has a total length of approximately 400 miles, a width of 65 miles, and encompasses an area of 24,370 sq mi. The highest point in the range is Mount Whitney, which has an elevation of 14,505 ft.
The elevation of the Sierra Nevada increases from the north to the south. For example, Fredonyer Pass in Lassen County, California, has an elevation of about 5,000 ft, while Lake Tahoe, which sits on the border between California and Nevada, has an elevation of more than 9,000 ft. Additionally, in Yosemite National Park, peaks such as Mount Lyell, have an elevation of 13,120 ft. However, with an elevation of 14,505 ft, Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada.
The climate of the Sierra Nevada is impacted by the Mediterranean climate of California, although higher elevations experience an alpine climate. During winter, fall, and spring, some parts of the range experience significant amounts of precipitation, which ranges between 20 and 80 inches. At elevations above 6,000 ft, most precipitation comes in the form of snow. Additionally, the greatest volumes of precipitation occur in parts of the western slope, and at elevations between 5,000 and 8,000 ft. Conversely, the eastern slope is mostly located within the rain shadow, which explains why precipitation in that regions is lower. On average, the eastern slope receives less than 25 inches of precipitation annually.
In the summer, the Sierra Nevada is mostly dry, although occasional thunderstorms can occur, especially in mid and late summer. Thunderstorms are largely unpredictable and may produce one inch of rainfall or serious lightning that can cause fires. On average, summers have temperatures between 6 and 32 °C, while winters are relatively mild.
The climate of the Sierra Nevada has historically been destructive, as it has been responsible for numerous plane crashes. These crashes were caused by factors including microbursts and downdrafts. In particular, an area bounded by the following three cities has been nicknamed the "Nevada Triangle": Reno, Nevada; Fresno, California; and Las Vegas, Nevada. While the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that at least 2,000 plane crashes have occurred within this area.
The Sierra Nevada contains numerous geographical features and points of interest that are popular among tourists. Examples include Lake Tahoe, Hetch Hetchy Valley, Yosemite Valley, Kern Canyon, Kings Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, and the groves of giant sequoias trees.