South Lake Tahoe probably has the sharpest, most eager weather spotter in the nation. His name is Simon Smith and he says Tahoe is headed for a wet winter.
"I've been interested in weather since the El Niño-year of '82-83," Smith said. "I remember watching a news reporter standing on the Pacific Coast Highway with 25-foot breakers saying, 'Oh, there goes another house into the ocean.' "
As a spotter for the National Weather Service, Smith collects rain and snowfall amounts from his yard on Oakland Avenue. In his spare time, he analyzes weather data from years when Tahoe had a lot of snow. His prediction for this season: "I'm 95 percent sure we're going to have a heavy winter this year."
Though not a professional forecaster, Smith's prediction is unique because it is backed by a great deal of knowledge about weather patterns. He was well on his way to earning a meteorology degree from UC Davis when troubles with calculus stopped him cold.
He dropped out of school in 1997 and moved to Tahoe to work with at-risk young people while he finished work on a psychology degree at Lake Tahoe Community College. But his love of snow and dream of seeing his house buried in 15 feet of it, pulled him back into the world of weather.
"He has intense interest in weather. He just lives and breathes it," said Tom Cylke, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "Just about every day he calls and gets a briefing from us."
Today Smith, 27, estimates that he'll have a meteorology degree, probably by taking college courses online, within about three years. Right now he supports himself by working as a teller at US Bank. Before that he was a concierge.
Smith's prediction that Tahoe will get buried in snow this winter came out of research work he did for Cylke. Cylke does not endorse Smith's prediction but does think Tahoe will have a decent winter.
"Nothing is guaranteed in long-range forecasting," Cylke said. "(Smith's prediction) is based on a small number of statistics, five to 10 cases. To make a strong case we need about 25 cases."
Cylke said that if he had to make a prediction for the season it would be for a slightly wetter than normal winter.
Smith's prediction for a heavy snow year, which would mean more than 230 inches falling on South Lake Tahoe, is based on five indicators that were present during record winters.
-- There is a neutral to weak El Niño, which means water in the Pacific near the equator are slightly warmer than normal.
-- There is low pressure in the area of the Gulf of Alaska.
-- There is a northward displacement of the jet stream across the North Atlantic.
-- Last summer was dry.
-- Since weather in Reno has been recorded, Reno has never had six consecutive dry years. This winter would be its sixth.
- Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org