Old man winter could be waking up | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Old man winter could be waking up

by Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

If warm temperatures have you considering bringing out the lawn furniture, think again.

A storm brewing off the Pacific Coast is expected to bring heavy winds and more than 2 feet of snow to the upper elevations by Sunday.

Stopping short of making an absolute prediction, a National Weather Service hydrologist said the storm, which should begin rearing its head Thursday afternoon, could bring enough moisture so the Sierra snowpack is not in such a dire situation.

“If we get the amounts, it could help the current water-supply situation tremendously,” said hydrologist Gary Barbato. “This is kind of our last chance to get something big because April is typically not that big, and May — forget it.”

A high-wind watch was issued late Tuesday for the Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley and Carson City areas. High winds are expected to develop about midday Thursday and continue into Thursday night across the Sierra.

The winds will come from the southwest and are expected to increase in advance of a strong cold front that is developing off the Pacific Northwest.

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Winds are expected to be from 35 to 45 mph Thursday, with gusts over 50 mph possible by afternoon. Winds of 80 mph are expected on ridge tops.

Heavy rain in the Bay Area and Central Valley will continue through Friday. The snow levels will remain at or above 7,000 feet, said Rudy Cruz, National Weather Service meteorologist.

The first storm may lose some of its strength as it passes over the Sierra, with accumulations of a couple inches, Cruz said. The stronger storm could arrive by Saturday night, with heavier accumulations.

“We are probably going to have rain mixed with snow below the elevation experiencing snowmelt, and snow in the higher elevations,” Barbato said. “We could have quite a bit of snow.”

So much snow that late Tuesday the National Weather Service said the storms could be the most significant series since December.

This comes as good news to South Shore ski areas which have been experiencing warm days and melting snow, which has closed some lifts.

“We are definitely excited about the change in the weather,” said Todd Majoris, director of sales and marketing for Sierra-at-Tahoe. “It will be a nice boost for the balance of the season.”

Sierra is operating six out of its nine lifts. Majoris said the resort is on target for a April 21 closing and said the additional snow will bring skiers back after a period of virtually no snow and warm weather.

“Our challenge has been perception and how we are going to change the perception. We are now competing with golf courses and biking. But the groomers have done an awesome job and we are expecting a nice little resurgence when this is done,” Majoris said.

At Kirkwood Mountain Resort, there has been a decrease in skiers and the resort is also competing with non-snow activities.

“Our conditions have been pretty good. It will be nice to get people in the Bay Area to think about skiing again,” said Kirkwood spokeswoman Tania Pilkinton.

Also weighing on the minds of skiers, have been gasoline prices, the economy and the prospects of war, Pilkinton added.

“There is so much going on and several things that could affect the (skier) psyche,” she said.

Heavenly Ski Resort officials too, are thinking of snow and how to lure skiers back to the mountain after warm, spring-like weather in the Bay Area.

“With the warm spell … some people may have shifted gears into mountain biking and other spring and summer-type sports,” said Heavenly spokeswoman Molly Cuffe. ” With change in the weather pattern now, I think people will turn their attention again to skiing and get excited about it.”