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Pow: Storm’s size takes some by surprise

Jeff Munson
Photos by Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ South Lake Tahoe resident Noah Evenson snowblows a foot of snow from his driveway on Sunday.
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It can be said that Saturday’s storm that brought 16 inches of snow to South Lake Tahoe exceeded all expectations.

Some could go as far as to call Saturday’s event a freak of nature or an anomaly.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t on the National Weather Service radar as being significant enough to issue a winter storm warning.

That’s because slivers of the weather system – considered weak by weather service standards – turned into thunderstorms on the West Slope that strengthened as they made their way into the Sierra, according to Simon Smith, a South Lake Tahoe weather spotter and co-op forecaster for the Reno-based weather service.

“It was a little unexpected. Computer models didn’t indicate it, but once those thunderstorms develop, you run into the possibility of intense snow squalls out of it,” Smith said.

In fact there were three such bands of the main storm that hit a swath of South Shore before they traversed into Carson Valley and Carson City, dumping about four inches of snow on the valley floor.

The weather service, which is usually on target with predicting storms, didn’t see this one coming. It issued a “snow advisory” through 10 p.m. Saturday rather than a winter storm warning. The advisory called for 2 to 4 inches of snow at South Lake Tahoe.

“We didn’t believe it met warning criteria,” said Rudy Cruz, a meteorologist for the weather service.

Other totals from around the lake weren’t as impressive. Nine inches of snow was reported at the Truckee Tahoe Airport, while six inches fell at Tahoe City.

South Shore ski areas in particular received the brunt of the snow, with Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe getting anywhere from 24 to 30 inches out of it.

“I left last night and they had plowed the parking lot, and when I came back this morning, another foot had fallen,” said Blaise Carrig, chief operating officer at Heavenly.

Although winds were gusty at times on Saturday, none of the resorts closed because of the weather. Sunday was near picture-perfect, with blue skies and plenty of powder.

With 24 to 30 inches of snow “it’s really beautiful up there today,” Carrig said.

While the timing of the storm could have come a couple days earlier, Heavenly and other resorts reported brisk business over Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, considered among the busiest ski weekends of the season.

For the third time in four years Heavenly played host to the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a group of more than 600 African American snow enthusiasts. Carrig said he went out on a few runs with the group Sunday morning.

Sierra-at-Tahoe received about 24 inches on the mountain Saturday. Festivities went on despite the weather, including the UC Berkeley marching band, which played for skiers and snowboarders in front of the base lodge.

“With the snow and the holiday, we couldn’t have had it any better,” said Sierra spokeswoman Nicole Klay.

Kirkwood received anywhere from 22 to 28 inches out of the storm.

The forecast calls for continued sunshine today, high in the 30s. Another storm is expected to make its way into the Sierra on Tuesday night, with the possibility of “significant snowfall” on Wednesday, Cruz said. Possible snowfall amounts were not available.


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