Dissecting the K-factor of extra snow at Kirkwood | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dissecting the K-factor of extra snow at Kirkwood

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is located along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and receives more snow than any ski area in the Lake Tahoe area for two reasons.

One is that, contrary to what may seem logical, the maximum amount of precipitation in the Sierra does not fall along the highest elevations of the crest but along the western slopes between 6,000 to 7,000 feet.

This is where the maximum amount of precipitation is observed from rain and snow measurements and inferred by vegetation type. Numerical simulation of precipitation using high-resolution orographic models also develop a precipitation maximum along the west slopes within the 6,000- to 7,000-foot elevation band.

Since Kirkwood is west of the crest, it is able to capture this orographically-enhanced precipitation with more available low-level moisture and maximum lift before it is diminished on its way to the crest.

Secondly, Kirkwood, with its elevation ranging from 7,800 to 9,800 feet, can convert the precipitation to snow at a high snow-to-liquid ratio similar to the Sierra crest, but with more available moisture on the west slope.

The end result is that Kirkwood averages about 40 feet of snow each year, making it home to one of the deepest snowpacks of any resort in North America.

– Tom Cylke is a Tribune weather correspondent.

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