Monday, December 8, 2014

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Off to a "normal" start, more on the way

After three drought stricken winters in a row, it's easy to forget that even an average snow year in Tahoe is still A LOT of snow.  The storm last week brought much needed short-term drought relief to Tahoe and all of CA in the form of heavy rain and high elevation snow, which helped to replenish the parched soil moisture.  But when we take a look at the SNOTEL data from Tahoe City (elevation 6,797 ft.) and Squaw Valley (elevation 8,029 ft.) you can see that the precipitation and snow water equivalent for the year are just about average, or slightly below average.  The bottom line is this: it's going to take a massive winter to fully recover from the extended drought.

There is hope though.  The 2005-2006 winter is shown below the current year, and it actually started out very similar to this season. Several warm storms early in the season boosted the precipitation totals, but the snow pack remained below average at low elevations.  After about mid-January, 2006, the storms stayed cold with low snow levels, and the fluffy white goodness piled up deep.  So, don't worry about the warm early season storms with high snow levels.  We're building a killer base, and we'll keep our fingers crossed for an active winter.  Speaking of active...

Tahoe City SNOTEL current water year (top) and 2005-2006 water year (bottom) accumulated precipitation and snow water equivalent. (NRCS)

Squaw Valley SNOTEL current water year (top) and 2005-2006 water year (bottom) accumulated precipitation and snow water equivalent. (NRCS)

There is a strong storm currently in the Pacific that will move onshore Wednesday night into Thursday, and dump some more Sierra cement.    Below are the forecasted snow totals for Wednesday-Friday.  Yes, you are reading that figure correctly: 24-48 inches of snow over the Tahoe crest and Mt. Rose!!  We are still a few days away and things can change quickly, but models have been consistent that  past several days in heavy precipitation amounts.  The thing that is still uncertain are the snow levels.  Feet of snow is looking very likely above 8,000 ft., but between 6,000 and 8,000 ft. there is less confidence in the snowfall forecast.

Snowfall forecast for Wednesday through Friday. (NWS Sacramento)

The 700 mb (~10,000 ft.) temperatures indicate that snow levels could fall to lake level overnight Thursday into Friday morning. Notice the -5 C line (blue dotted) to the east and south of Tahoe by 4 AM on Friday morning.  This is looking much better for snow levels compared to the previous storm.


We'll have a detailed update on Wednesday with snowfall amounts, snow levels, and timing of the incoming storm.  Get those skis and boards waxed up, it could be fun weekend of riding!


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