TRUCKEE, Calif. — Amid hopes of a whiter winter this year, The Weather Channel recently named Truckee as the fourth-snowiest city in the United States.
With an average annual snowfall of 202.6 inches over 30 years, Truckee is outranked by Hancock, Mich. (211.9 inches), Crested Butte, Colo. (215.3) and Valdez, Alaska (326.3).
“Pretty much the whole town thrives on our snow — (for) recreation to just having enough water,” said Truckee resident Ben Bergeron.
In ranking Truckee, The Weather Channel touched on the region’s storied history, including the Donner Party, the April 1880 storm that dumped 16 feet of snow in four days near Donner Summit, and the Sierra snow slides in January 1952 that trapped a passenger train with 226 aboard headed to San Francisco.
A major factor in high snowfall for Tahoe/Truckee is that eastbound, Pacific Ocean-generated storms intensify as they are forced up and over the Sierra in a cooling process, said Mark McLaughlin, longtime regional weather historian.
In addition, the Sierra often separates warm, moist airstreams originating over the Pacific from cold, dry airstreams from the North American continent interior.
“Can there be a lot of snow here? Sure,” said Truckee resident Carla McClure. “I’ve seen very snowy winters, and I’ve seen very dry winters. That’s California for you.”
One of those very snowy winters was in 2010-11, when it dumped 510 inches of snow at 6,200 feet and 810 inches at 8,200 feet, according to Squaw Valley’s snowfall tracker. That’s been followed by two drier winters — 182.5 inches and 355 inches in 2011-12, and 183 inches and 326 inches in 2012-13.
“(I hope) that it’s going to snow for Thanksgiving a little and then a lot for Christmas,” said McClure, who later pointed out that the area’s economy depends on snowfall. “But I’m enjoying the nice weather we’ve been having ‘cause it always snows eventually.”
But the question of how much remains.
“We can go either way — above normal with precipitation, and the same chance of a drought, a dry year,” said Alex Hoon, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno.
This prediction is based on neither El Niño nor La Niña being present. La Niña is associated with cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures, while El Niño is associated with warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures. Both can bring weather extremes to various parts of the nation.
Professional meteorologist and long-range forecaster Rob Guarino, however, predicts above-average snowfall for Squaw Valley for the 2013-14 winter. He forecasts about 500 inches of snowfall for the season, with February being the snowiest month.
Still, whether Truckee will live up to its title this winter as one of the snowiest American cities is yet to be seen.
“We’ll just have to keep an eye on how it unfolds,” Hoon said.