Sierra snowpack below average after dry month |

Sierra snowpack below average after dry month

Almost every year since 1987, Chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Frank Gehrke has recorded a mid-winter lull during which fewer storms hit the Sierra Nevada. And 2013 was no exception. The water content at Phillips Station near Echo Summit was 12.7 inches Tuesday, or 66 percent of the long-term average. When Gehrke conducted the year’s first survey at the start of the month, water content was at 101 percent of average. Statewide, the snowpack water content was 93 percent of average for the date and 55 percent of the April 1 measurement –typically the snowpack’s peak. “Unfortunately as we foresaw, we had very little storm activity in January. The storage in the reservoirs is the bright spot, but that’s not to say the snowpack can’t come back. It’s just not as optimistic as before,” Gehrke said. Gehrke said the Northern Sierra Nevada typically experience a mid-winter lull in storm activity that for the past few years has come in January. High-pressure centers build up just off the coast and then act as a barrier that prevents winter storms from moving inland toward California. Instead, the storms get rerouted toward the Pacific Northwest or Alaska. Those systems can even affect the Midwest or the East Coast if they detour to the north. “The duration of the lull is the difference between a good water year and a so-so water year. We typically get water during discrete, intense events. We have storms that come through and dump a bunch of snow,” Gehrke said. SNOTEL data collected over the last decade from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that snowpack water content tends to flatline for about two to six weeks in January or early February before rising gradually through March or the start of April. While the length and severity of the lull varies, each year since 2004 saw a period of little or no snow. Meteorologists can’t predict how long the high-pressure centers will blockade the coast, nor do they know exactly why they form during the winter, Gehrke said. It’s probably linked to long-term ocean patterns like the ones that cause El Nino and La Nina, but there isn’t enough data yet to piece together the details, he said. None of those massive winter storms that skiers and riders dream about have moved through the region recently. Unless the South Shore gets what Gehrke calls a “miracle March” or another series of powerful storms, snowpack water content will be about what it was last spring, he said. The forecast isn’t entirely negative though. Gehrke said those high-pressure centers seem to be dissipating and important water-storage reservoirs are above average thanks to precipitation in November and December. Lake Oroville is at 113 percent of average for the date and Lake Shasta is at 111 percent of average, according to a Department of Water Resources press release. The DWR estimates that it will deliver 40 percent of the requested water this year to supply 25 million individuals and almost 1 million acres of irrigated farmland. The snowpack normally provides about one third of the water for California. “Those early-season storms also erased the deficit in our reservoir storage, but relatively dry weather this month is once again a reminder that the weather is unpredictable and we must always practice conservation,” DWR Director Mark Cowin said in the release.

Warm storm on the way

A warm, moisture-laden storm is expected to drop as much as 3 inches of rain at lake level and at least a foot of snow above 8,000 feet today, making for soggy conditions and the potential for flooding, according to the National Weather Service. The storm was expected to move into the Sierra this afternoon, bringing with it higher-than-normal temperatures that have forecasters concerned that whatever snow amounts were gained earlier this week below 8,000 feet will have been lost by the time the storm leaves the area late Thursday. With the earmarks of a so-called “pineapple express” phenomenon, in which southerly subtropical storms make landfall in the central Sierra, there is a chance for localized and stream flooding, said Gary Barbato, a hydrologist for the Reno-based weather service. “The snow below 7,500 feet will likely get mushy or wash away,” he said. “The good thing is that most of the snow at the lower elevations is already gone. The soils are pretty saturated, though, so I’m not saying there won’t be a problem. It is something that will have to be watched.” Ski areas that received more than 2 feet of snow from this week’s storms are putting their best face on the possibility that today’s storm may bring more rain than snow at their bases. Sierra-at-Tahoe, which runs vertically from 6,640 to 8,852 feet and is completely open, boasted 26 inches from this week’s storm. With snow expected above 8,000 feet, any amount is a good amount, spokeswoman Nicole Klay said. “We were fortunate enough during the last storm to get mostly snow. Hopefully with Sierra’s amazing grooming system (the warm weather storm) won’t affect conditions too adversely,” she said. “The one thing that is great for skiers to know is that a good, wet, heavy snow can make for a great, early season snowpack.” Holiday skiers have emerged on the slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort, considered among the busiest weeks of the year. Snowmaking equipment and recent storms have allowed the ski area to maintain about 50 inches of snow, said spokesman Russ Pecoraro. The prospect of rain doesn’t dampen the resort’s enthusiasm for a banner ski week, Pecoraro said. “The majority of our mountain is covered with snow. A foot of new snow expected in this storm is music to our ears,” he said. “Heavenly is 100 percent open now and any snow we add to that makes our conditions that much better.” Daytime temperatures today and Thursday will be between 48 and 58 at lake level, with lows hovering around 31 to 34 degrees tonight, which may drop snow levels down to about 7,500 feet. Lower temperatures should keep the snow level at 7,500 feet on Thursday as the storm moves out, Barbato said. The recent storms have brought good news to those keeping tabs on water averages at Lake Tahoe. The lake is 1.25 feet above its rim, and about 4 feet from being full, Barbato said. So far through December, Tahoe has received 11.12 inches of rain and snow. Normal precipitation amounts through December is 10.88 inches. “This is very good and we’re expecting quite a bit more” with today’s storm, he said. The forecast calls for clearing after Thursday, with highs in the 40s and 50s at lake level through the weekend. Forecasters are keeping their eyes on the possibility of another weather system next week, but for now it is too early to say if it will materialize.

Warm, soggy storms to continue

Snow turned to rain for much of the South Shore on Tuesday as a winter storm dumped about 5 inches of snow at lake level and about a foot to 18 inches at higher elevations. Slushy streets and clogged drainages greeted motorists and pedestrians as temperatures hovered around 40 degrees, melting off much of the accumulated snow. Despite the slush, Heavenly Mountain Resort plans to open today and Kirkwood Mountain resort plans a Thursday opening. Both resorts will have limited runs and have relied heavily on snowmaking equipment to lay their bases for their runs. Unfortunately for the ski areas, a carbon copy of this week’s storm is expected on Thursday and may be an even warmer one, bringing rain rather than snow to South Lake Tahoe. Snow levels predicted are between 7,000 to 7,500 feet. The warm-weather storm, described by forecasters as subtropical, could bring about three-quarters of an inch of rain to the basin floor and up to a foot of snow in the mountains. The storm, however, is not considered a so-called “pineapple express” system, said National Weather Service forecaster Jon Bonk. The weather phenomenon is where storms that are normally generated from the gulf of Alaska are replaced by storms created in the South Pacific. “This particular system has gained a lot of moist air north of Hawaii, but I wouldn’t say it was a pineapple connection,” Bonk said. “If it were, we would be seeing system after system.” Bonk described the Sierra Nevada as being on the warm side of the storm track for November, while the Cascades, in Oregon, are the cold side of weather system, thus getting cold weather and heavy snow. He called these warm weather storms “isolated,” meaning there hasn’t been a pattern. However, forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week that Northern California is twice as likely this year to undergo a series of pineapple express storms as opposed to El Niño conditions. Highs through Friday will be in the upper 30s at lake level and high 20s in the mountains.

Powder weekend for skiers

By Jeff Munson Tribune city editor Mother Nature will provide a break this weekend after heavy snow blanketed the Lake Tahoe Basin again Thursday, pleasing water officials, ski areas and schoolchildren. The precipitation comes at a crucial time for the mountain snowpack, which provides the bulk of summertime water across the region. Before the storm, its water content was about average for the date. “This storm was a good producer of water content, one of the best this season,” said Dave Hart, engineer associated with the California Department of Water Resources Snow Survey division. When all is said and done, lake level will have received at least 2 feet of snow, which amounts to about 4 inches of water, Hart said. In four past dry winters, early storms left promising snowpacks that dwindled as precipitation dropped off after Christmas. On Tuesday, Hart and a team of snow surveyors will meet near Twin Bridges at Phillips to gauge the latest storm. The Desert Research Institute, an agency that also monitors water in the region, cranked up three cloud seeding generators in the Lake Tahoe Basin Thursday where snowpack is reported to be 105 percent of normal. Again on Thursday, heavy snow contributed to scores of fender benders and caused rocks and boulders to become unstable and trickle on to the roadways. Schools on both the California and Nevada sides were closed. Road crews have stepped up their efforts and as of Thursday night, avalanche control was being done at Highway 88, 3.5 miles east of Silver Lake and on Highway 50 from Twin Bridges to Meyers. The roads are expected to be cleared and opened on Friday. Kirkwood Mountain Resort reported receiving 5 feet at the top of the mountain as of Thursday night, while Sierra-at-Tahoe and Heavenly had depths of 3-plus feet of fresh snow. “We’ll definitely have all the lifts turning. Anytime it snows in midweek in time for the weekend, it’s a recipe for a big ski weekend,” Sierra-At-Tahoe Nicole Belt said. Once the storm blows out, Kirkwood plans to do its own avalanche control work early Friday morning to prepare for the onslaught of weekend skiers. “This storm is shaping up to be stunning for Kirkwood and the entire basin,” said Kirkwood spokeswoman Tracy Miller. “Partly cloudy skies on tap for Friday will make weekend travel a breeze and the skiing phenomenal,” added Heavenly’s Molly Cuffe. The forecast call for clearing Friday and Saturday with a much weaker storm front moving into the Sierra late Sunday. – Tribune staff writer Susan Wood contributed to this report

Snow, snow and more snow

Timing not so good for area ski resorts By Jeff Munson Tribune city editor As Thursday’s storm blew through the Lake Tahoe Basin to ring in 2004 – the third storm to hit the region in nine days – it left ski areas packed with snow but conditions so fierce that only a few lifts could operate. Since Dec. 24, about 3 feet of snow has fallen at lake level and up to 9 feet at heights over 7,000 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The large amount of snowfall in a short period of time is nothing new for ski areas. But the problems that arise with it, especially during the peak times, are a rare occurrence. At 250 inches at the top of its mountain, the snow total has been exceptionally good for skiers with the exception of Thursday, said Tim Cohee, president of Kirkwood Ski Resort. “The key to Kirkwood’s success is timing. Once you get adequate snow, it is a function of when it snows,” Cohee said, adding that the timing of the first two storms gave motorists access to the mountain without major road problems. By 10:45 a.m. Thursday, however, the heavy snow and high winds hit the ski area, forcing it to close for the day. From late Wednesday when the storm started, to Thursday morning it had dumped 2 feet of fresh snow at Kirkwood. “It is a little frustrating to get hit with weather like this during the holiday. A lot of people ski. So, to lose as much as 25 percent because of weather puts us in a situation where we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to meet our goals for the year,” Cohee said. At least 1 foot of snow fell Thursday at Sierra-at-Tahoe, closing all but one chairlift. At Heavenly Mountain Resort, the California side was closed, while Boulder Lodge and Stagecoach on the Nevada side were operating. “We’re fortunate to have so many entry points to the mountain,” said Heavenly spokeswoman Molly Cuffe. As of Dec. 31, 2003, the resort received 12 feet of snow at its upper elevations. In December 2002, Heavenly reported 13 feet, 2001, about 12.5 feet. The resort got a scant 16.5 inches of snow in December 2000. “We are right in the ball park in the three-year average,” Cuffe said. Historically speaking, it has been both hit and miss for the month of December in the basin. Data collected since 1914 by the Reno-based Desert Research Institute shows that in December 1931 the basin received 114 inches of snow. Twenty years later in 1951, 106 inches fell and the following year, 101 inches were reported for the month. In December 2002, for example, 95 inches of snow fell at the basin, and the year before that, 71.5 inches. The opposite extreme in precipitation average is a little more daunting. In the month of December, records that date back from 1914 show that there have been three years where no precipitation was measured in the basin – 1990, 1991 and 1994. In the present, however, resorts should brace for more snow as another weather system is expected to arrive Monday, bringing snow above 7,000 feet and rain at lake level, said Mark Deutschendorf, a National Weather Service forecaster. The storm looks to be even bigger than Thursday’s, which dumped between about a foot and 15 inches at lake level, he said. The new storm is larger and warmer, with some aspects of a tropical moisture, known as the “Pineapple Express” effect surfacing into the system.

Storm watch: More snow on the way for Lake Tahoe Basin

LAKE TAHOE ” A winter storm for the Lake Tahoe Basin and the Sierra is expected on Thursday into Friday morning, the National Weather Service reports. Another cold low pressure system will drop out of Canada and into the Tahoe basin sometime Thursday. This storm is expected to bring heavy snow accumulations to the northern Sierra Thursday night and Friday morning, according to the weather service, which has issued a winter storm watch today. There is a potential for significant snow accumulations and dangerous winter driving conditions. The Lake Tahoe area could get up to one foot of snow at lake level and two feet in higher elevations. Winds are anticipated to be between 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 40 mph at lake level and up to 100 mph over mountain ridges.

Wednesday’s weather: A break between the storms early today and then snow

A brief break in the weather this morning in between storm systems. Tuesday’s storm dropped around 12 to 18 inches in the upper elevation with up to 6 inches at Lake level as the snow tapered off overnight. Look for increasing clouds this afternoon with snow developing by mid afternoon along the Sierra crest and down to lake level by late afternoon or early evening. High temperatures today are forecast to reach into the mid 30s in most areas with south winds 15 to 25 mph at the surface and gusts to 60 mph along the Sierra crest. Low temperatures tonight will drop into the mid 20s around the lake under cloudy skies and increasing snow. The storm system tonight and Thursday is forecast to drop between 1 to 2 feet in the Lake Tahoe area above 7000 feet with around 6 to 10 inches at Lake level. Strong winds will accompany this storm late tonight into Thursday afternoon resulting in considerable blowing and drifting snow over the passes and other exposed areas above 7000 feet. Motorist should be prepared for hazardous winter driving conditions with slick roads and poor visibilities at times. Check the latest road conditions and allow extra time to reach your destination. Colder air spreading into the area behind the cold front will keep daytime temperatures in the upper 20s to lower 30s on Thursday. Clearing skies and fresh snow cover Thursday night will allow overnight temperatures to plunge to the single digits by Friday morning. Friday looks to be the best day for skiers to enjoy the fresh powder as high pressure rebuilds into the area. Dry weather is projected for the remainder of the weekend with another front forecast to bring a chance of additional snow Christmas eve. ” Meteorologist Tom Cylke can be reached at

Blustery weather expected this week; snowpack 131 percent above 30-year median

Windy, cold weather with some snow is predicted Wednesday, Jan. 13, with more white stuff in the pipeline. "We'll see 1-4 inches Wednesday around Lake Tahoe Basin, possibly 3-7 inches above 7,000 feet," said Dustin Norman, meteorologist with National Weather Service's Reno office. "It should be snow, not rain." Despite lower snow accumulation expectations, poor road conditions are likely, especially Wednesday night. "High temperatures will be slightly above freezing," Norman explained. "While you'll get accumulation on roads, it will refreeze [Wednesday] night with lows in the upper teens." forecaster Bryan Allegretto reported that "after a break Thursday, we could see another storm by Thursday night that will bring several more inches of snow. [There will be] another break Friday before a third storm brings more snow on Saturday. The winds will get quite strong even to lake level Wednesday with gusts up to 40 mph, and 60-80 mph on the mountains. "The winds will stay strong through the upcoming week with all the storms. The storms could continue with a weak storm Sunday, and then next week we could possibly see much stronger storms with fluctuating snow levels." Though the Tahoe region has experienced weaker storms of late, Allegretto suggested in his Tuesday, Jan. 12, daily report the possibility of "two strong storms next week," with predictions of up to a foot of snow. SNOWPACK According to Norman, snowpack levels for the Lake Tahoe Basin is looking good. "Using eight SNOTEL sites, we are currently 131 percent above the 30-year median," he said. "We're 382 percent above last year, though we have a long way to go to get out of the drought." Stay tuned for an expanded weather and avalanche forecast in the Tribune's Friday edition.

Weather update: First and weakest of three storms to move in Tuesday

While the National Weather Service remained cautious today about predicting snow amounts in a series of storms that will begin tomorrow and last through the weekend, the Tribune’s own forecaster says there’s a possibility of several feet in the Sierra by Sunday. “Computer models are showing fairly heavy precipitation with the weekend storm with several feet of snow possible in the upper elevations by Sunday evening,” said Tom Cylke, a retired meteorologist who has forecasted for the Lake Tahoe and Reno regions since 1974 with the weather service. The first of the series of storms will blow into the region tomorrow afternoon, with strong storms expected later this week and into the weekend. The first weak system will bring rain and light snow accumulations, according to the weather service. The more significant storms will punch the region Thursday into Friday after brief clearing on Wednesday and again on Saturday. Snow levels near 6,000 feet will lower to 4,000 to 5,000 feet by Friday morning. Periods of snow are possible Thursday night and Friday in the Sierra with lighter precipitation into Western Nevada. “Some significant snowfall is possible in the Sierra with this storm but amounts and location still remain in question,” according to a special statement from the weather service. The strongest storm in the series will begin Saturday. Significant snow amounts are expected with this storm in the Sierra however the location of the heaviest snow remains uncertain, the weather statement said. The Carson Valley and Carson City could see accumulations from the storm. “Differences in the current forecast models continue which means confidence in the timing of these systems and predicting the actual snowfall amounts remains very low at this time,” the weather service added. Read Cylke’s full forecast in Tuesday’s Tahoe Daily Tribune and check back to for more developments on the storms.

Lake Tahoe snowpack: Wet storms boost water supply

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – With Lake Tahoe’s regional snowpack at 125 percent of average, local scientists are now hoping for mild weather and a slow melt. “If you get a sudden pulse of warm rain or warm conditions, that causes a lot of the snow to melt and run off all at once so it could run down faster than it would filtrate and that could carry sediment pollution,” said Dennis Oliver, a spokesman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. However, if the snow melts at a slower pace it will have time to filtrate before it enters the lake, Oliver said. “That’s better for the lake because it will bring clean, filtrated water to the tributaries,” he said. As clean water enters the lake, it could increase the lake level, which helps make algal blooms less visible, he added. “It will be good for clarity, it gives the lake a good flushing,” Oliver said. The agency expects the lake to rise about a half a foot this year, Oliver said. On Tuesday the lake’s level was at 6223.84 feet. Lake Tahoe’s natural rim is 6223 feet. A recent string of wet storms and cooler temperatures added to the region’s water supply this spring according to a joint report by the National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service released this week. The snowpack for the Carson River Basin was 125 percent of average, Lake Tahoe 125 percent of average, the Truckee River basin 120 percent of average and the Walker River Basin 113 percent of average. However the storms weren’t enough to end the region’s ongoing drought outside of western Nevada and the eastern Sierra. “Unfortunately, this season was not the drought breaker that had been hoped for much of this region,” the report said. “While western Nevada and the eastern Sierra should get a break from the three-year dry spell, most of the rest of Nevada and northeast California will have to deal with a fourth dry year in a row.” The cool temperatures and wet storms that affected the region in April and early May slowed the snow melt and added to the snowpack. The potential for spring flooding is average for rivers in the region, including the Carson River above the Lahontan Reservoir. “Under normal snow melt conditions, spring runoff should be controlled throughout Nevada and eastern California,” the report said. “However, heavy rainfall during the melt season, or several days of much above average temperatures, may result in localized river and stream flooding.” April precipitation was highest in the Walker River Basin at 199 percent of average. The Carson River Basin was 167 percent of average. From May through August, precipitation is expected to be normal throughout the region with temperatures above normal, according to the report.