No white Christmas for Tahoe
Lake Tahoe will not have a white Christmas.
The snowpack in Tahoe’s part of the Sierra Nevada is about 30 percent of normal, according to the California Department of Water Resources. And no help is expected from Old Man Winter at least for another week or so.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to get any (snow) by Christmas – probably none by the end of the month,” said Danny Mercer, climatologist for the National Weather Service’s Reno office. “We’re high and dry.”
Jeff Cohen, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, said the central Sierra’s snowpack – which encompasses Tahoe – is about 30 percent of average.
He estimates there is probably a 40-percent chance the region will get enough snow within the next few months to put the end-of-the-season snowpack at 100 percent. However, with each day without snow that probability diminishes.
“The Sierra is very fickle,” he said. “Weather systems can change quickly.”
The Department of Water Resources will take its first official snowpack reading of the season for the area Jan. 4 at a benchmark location near Echo Summit.
After five consecutive wet winters, Cohen said, California’s water storage is about 20 percent above normal. He said it would take a few back-to-back dry years before Southern California’s water supplies could be in trouble.
That doesn’t help the ski resorts around Tahoe, who claim they are doing the best with what they’ve got.
“We wish (there was more snow) but we’re making the best with our conditions,” said Nicole Belt, spokeswoman for Kirkwood, a resort south of the Tahoe Basin which normally gets more natural snow than any other in the region.
This time last year Kirkwood had about 65 to 97 inches of base. It has 12 to 30 inches now, Belt said.
“We are still getting a good crowd,” she said. “Midweek is a little slow, but we’re hoping people come up during the holidays. We’ve got a lot of terrain open for all levels. We’re optimistic.”
Ben McLeod of Sierra-at-Tahoe said the resort would like more snow, but it is doing everything it can to keep the conditions the best they can be.
“The operations guys are great. I saw them shoveling snow from the wooded areas into buckets and bringing it out onto the trails,” he said. “Obviously we would love to have a lot more, but we have pretty good conditions. We’ll make do with what we have.”
Monica Bandows, spokeswoman for Heavenly Ski Resort, said the company’s snowmaking system, the biggest in the West, has helped the South Shore resort open a lot of trails it wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. However, only about 35 percent of the trails were open Tuesday, and the resort may limit tickets over the holiday to keep slopes from getting too crowded.
“I think the lack of snow will have an impact (on business). How much we don’t know,” Bandows said. “It’s not by any means doom and gloom over here. We’re OK.”
Neither of the three resorts are planning any special deals to attract visitors during the holidays.
According to Oasis Aviation at the Lake Tahoe Airport, December’s snowfall is shaping up to be the driest since the company started measuring Dec. 5, 1996. About 7 inches have fallen this month. In December 1998, 34 inches fell; in December 1997, 20 inches fell. In December 1996 – not counting Dec. 1 through 4 when measurements weren’t taken – 74 inches fell at Tahoe.
The reason the region has had no storms lately, according to the Weather Service’s Mercer, is because a pressure system over the West is keeping Pacific storms from hitting the area by pushing them up toward Alaska. These types of conditions were common during the drought years of the early 1990s, Mercer said.
“We’ve had quite a few wet winters in a row up until now. We’re probably due for a dry spell,” Mercer said.
Snow recorded at Oasis Aviation
October November December
1999 none 5 inches 7 inches so far
1998 1 inch 12 inches 34 inches
1997 none 5 inches 20 inches
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