Late winter has a snap to it | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Late winter has a snap to it

Jeff Munson

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Taking advantage of the break between winter storms, Steve Montefu shovels a foot of snow from the driveway of his Tahoe Keys home on Saturday afternoon. More snow is in the forecast for Lake Tahoe.

It’s been December, January and February all rolled into March.

And it ain’t over yet.

While it should come as no surprise as federal weather forecasters announced in late January a La Niña pattern would materialize over the Pacific Ocean, the climate as of late has been downright unusual.

La Niña, a weather phenomenon that cools ocean temperatures, usually happens at the beginning of winter, not the end. But this season has been one that may go down in the weather books as anomalous, similar to 1897, when record cold temperatures gripped Northern Nevada, and Reno posted a low temperature of 3 below zero on March 29 of that year.

Cold arctic air flows – normal weather patterns that usually happen during the first three months of winter – have landed in California and Nevada late in the season.

And it was only three months ago when wave after wave of warm, subtropical air – usually associated with spring weather conditions – gave the Sierra plenty of rain, most notably the New Year’s storms.

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“This year has been different. Much more rain than snow and in March the cold,” said Rudy Cruz, forecaster for the Reno office of the National Weather Service.

Forecasters had been bracing for the change, with weather models in February indicating large swaths of unstable air masses percolating in the upper stretches of the hemisphere. One by one these weather systems have blown into the region, bringing snow and dropping temperatures into the single digits and teens. According to the weather service, the average daytime temperatures in March are consistently in the upper-40s. So far this month, the average has been 10 to 15 degrees cooler. No records, however, have been broken, Cruz said.

To cost-conscious energy consumers, who by this time would be bringing down their thermostats, the unseasonable temperatures have been an insult to pocketbooks already plagued by mounting economic injuries.

In November, the public utilities commissions in California and Nevada approved natural gas hikes for Southwest Gas, which on average, have raised energy costs to consumers by 16 to 25 percent, according to the utility. When higher electric bills and gasoline are added to the equation, many are wondering when they will see relief.

South Lake Tahoe resident Chuck Upton said he paid about $55 in March 2005 to Southwest Gas to heat his two-bedroom apartment. This month’s bill has nearly doubled to about $110, he said.

“When you consider all the cold weather combined with the increased gas price, they are basically pinching everyone,” said Upton, a nine-year resident who owns an automotive repair shop in town.

With seven days until the first day of spring, the 10-day forecast calls for much of the same – cold weather, wind and snow, Cruz said.

As of Monday night, a winter storm warning was in effect until 4 p.m. today for the Lake Tahoe Basin, with 6 to 12 inches of snow expected at lake level and 1 to 2 feet above 7,000 feet. While the storm should blow out of the area by today, look for snow showers and cloudy skies through the remainder of the week, possibly Sunday seeing a brief reprieve.