El Niño impact on Lake Tahoe showing potential | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Niño impact on Lake Tahoe showing potential

Sebastian Foltz
A snowboarder airs off a log at Kirkwood Mountain Resort Monday, Nov. 16. Area resorts expect to open more terrain with this week's snow and cold temperatures.
Sebastian Foltz / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — With another winter storm passing through the Tahoe Basin this week, regional weather forecasters are increasingly confident in the potential for a strong El Niño to significantly impact the northern Sierra Nevada this winter. Numerous previous predictions were only cautiously optimistic with the Tahoe region on the border between probable wet weather to the south and a drier winter to the north. Those predictions have been revised in part due to early season weather systems thus far.

To date, recent storms have been related to traditional early winter weather patterns coming from the northern Pacific, not El Niño. Weather systems related to the large mass of warm water in the central Pacific Ocean may begin to impact the region as early as December, some forecasters said.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of change from what we’ve seen the last few winters,” Reno-based National Weather Service forecaster Jim Wallmann told the Tahoe Daily Tribune Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Wallmann referred to the decline of a strong high-pressure ridge off of the West Coast of the United States that had blocked numerous storms in previous winters.

“Whether these storms are tied to El Niño is debatable,” he said, explaining the potential for a more significant impact later in the winter. “We’re definitely more optimistic than we have been.”

Forecasters say El Niño’s impact is typically more apparent starting in January and into March, but some recent models are seeing the potential for the warm water to begin to influence weather as early as next week.

“The way it’s setting up next week is a classic El Niño pattern,” OpenSnow.com ski forecaster Bryan Allegretto said. “That’s the pattern I want to see this winter.”

He added, however, that not all forecast models are in agreement for the week.

“Two of three show a breakthrough of storms,” he explained.

Wallmann echoed the sentiment.

“It looks like it might stay somewhat active next week,” he said. “How big those storms are is uncertain.”

Snow is expected to continue in the region through the remainder of the holiday week with highs only reaching the mid 20s to low 30s. Wallmann said snowfall amounts following Tuesday’s storm will be less significant.

“There are going to be some snow showers around into at least Saturday,” he said. “Your might get an inch or two each day.”

While snowfall totals so far this winter are substantially higher than recent years, allowing area resorts to open ahead of schedule, snow totals are still below average Allegretto said.

“We have some catching up to do,” he said, adding that another significant storm could be enough to return to average. “We could catch up easily if we get a storm with feet instead of inches.”

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