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Big snow for Tahoe? Forecasters talk about winter possibilities

Heavenly Mountain Resort during a powder day last season.
Provided / Bill Rozak

With last year’s ski season coming to an early end, many skiers and snowboarders are itching to make up for the lost turns this year and the biggest question out there is, will there be snow?

And the experts say … Maybe.

Old Farmer’s Almanac, which boasts of an 80% accuracy rate, is calling for a fairly dry winter.

Ben Kilbride, assistant editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac said Tahoe should expect colder than normal temperatures and less snow than usual in our region.

“The end of December and the end of January will be the coldest periods,” Kilbride said. “The first real storm probably won’t be until the beginning of January or maybe the end of December.”

Farmer’s Almanac, on the other hand, is feeling a little more optimistic. Managing Editor Sandi Duncan said we can expect some wet snow around Nov. 8-11 and some real snow in time for Thanksgiving.

Bryan Allegretto, partner and California snow forecaster with Open Snow also likes what he’s seeing for November.

“Models are showing wet systems moving in the seventh through the 14th with the pattern shifting the second or third weeks,” Allegretto said, meaning he also thinks there might be snow for Thanksgiving.

But as for the rest of the winter, it’s up in the air, literally and figuratively.

Allegretto and his team look back at the past 50-75 winters and look for winters that match the current conditions we have now to try to guess what this winter might bring.

“This year is a little bit of an anomaly, no season lines up perfectly,” Allegretto said.

One of the factors making this winter hard to predict is that it’s a La Nina year. La Nina is the cooling of the ocean surface temperatures and it typically brings storms from the north that move south.

Because of La Nina, Farmer’s Almanac has dubbed this the “Winter of the Great Divide.”

“Cold and snowy in the north, drought in the west and everything crazy in between,” the almanac states.

Tahoe’s location makes La Nina unpredictable. The basin is right at the southern tip of those northern storms so they could hit or completely miss the region.

Allegretto said the 2010/11 season was a La Nina year and the temperatures were in the 70’s until Thanksgiving and then we got hammered with snow the rest of the year. However, the ocean temperatures that year were colder than they are this year. Because the temperatures were so cold, the snow was very powdery.

Then on the flip side, 2016/17 was a La Nina season and there were a lot of atmospheric rivers and rain at lake level. According to Allegretto, there was above average snowfall at all elevations.

Allegretto said this winter could be slightly above average or slightly below, so let’s all give our offerings to Mother Nature and hope for slightly above.

One thing Allegretto said is that during the last 10 La Nina years, Alpine Meadows got an average of 49 more inches than Mammoth which he said is, “more statistically significant than it sounds.”

Duncan said spring should arrive on time but Kilbride said the transition between winter and spring could be slow.


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