Historic storm shatters records, provides strong base for winter

Laney Griffo
The historic storm was capped off by wet, heavy snow that uprooted some trees and threatened others.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The historic storm that hit the Tahoe Basin this past weekend provided a good base for the winter, weather officials say.

The Sierra received more than 2 feet of snow and heavy rain which caused highway and school closures.

“We are witnessing a record breaking October precipitation event based on data from Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL stations in Tahoe and Truckee basins as well as National Weather Service valley weather observation stations,” said NRCS Hydrologist Jeff Anderson.

All schools were closed Monday in Incline Village, where up to 18 inches of snow was recorded, and in South Lake Tahoe. A foot of snow was reported at Homewood, on Tahoe’s West Shore, and 5 inches at South Lake Tahoe. Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline reported picking up 30 inches of snow.

According to a 72-hour history chart on the NWS website, South Lake Tahoe received 6.37 inches of precipitation between Oct. 23-25. The area received 4.89 inches on Sunday alone, which is a new record for the area. Looking back to 2000, the closest the area came to that mark was 3.74 inches on Oct. 24, 2010.

The storm packing winds gusting up to 90 mph Sunday night dropped 29 inches of snow on Donner Pass where Interstate 80 crosses the top of the Sierra west of Truckee, the National Weather Service said.

“This event is a bit wetter than October 2016. That winter (2017) turned out to be one of the wettest ever, with record breaking snow amounts above 8,000 feet,” Anderson said. “Time will tell if we are on that trajectory again. It’s way too early to say at this point.”

This storm was desperately needed in the basin, which has experienced significant drought in recent years. According to Anderson, “Lake Tahoe has already risen about 6 inches from this storm,” and moved back above its natural rim.

“That said, the rain and snow we have seen does not come close to making up the drought deficits we’ve totaled the past two years. Expect the area to still be in drought status when the rain stops,” Anderson said. “It is however a big first step in the correct direction. It’s also an excellent boost for reservoirs.”

The Truckee River was receding from near flood stage on Monday after a record 1.88 inches of rain was recorded Sunday at Reno Tahoe-International Airport, breaking the old record for the day of 0.86 inches set in 1951.

By Monday morning, more than 2.5 inches had fallen at the airport over a 24-hour period, pushing the October rainfall total to a record 2.82 inches, breaking the old mark of 2.65 inches set in 2010.

“Perhaps the best news of all is the rain is saturating soils. This is a key water supply metric we have missed the past two winters,” Anderson said.

When the soils remain dry throughout the winter, spring runoff did not make it into the reservoirs.

“In basic terms that means more of the spring snowmelt will make it to the streams and rivers instead of soaking into the ground,” Anderson said. “The past two years we missed rain in the fall so the soils were bone dry under the snow, which led to a reduction in runoff to our area’s reservoirs.”

“Finally the high elevation snow is a bonus to building this year’s snowpack. Hopefully it leads to early season skiing and fantastic coverage for the holiday season,” Anderson added.

According to the NWS, South Lake Tahoe should remain dry and somewhat cloudy for the rest of the week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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