Warm storm on the way | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warm storm on the way

Jeff Munson

A warm, moisture-laden storm is expected to drop as much as 3 inches of rain at lake level and at least a foot of snow above 8,000 feet today, making for soggy conditions and the potential for flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was expected to move into the Sierra this afternoon, bringing with it higher-than-normal temperatures that have forecasters concerned that whatever snow amounts were gained earlier this week below 8,000 feet will have been lost by the time the storm leaves the area late Thursday.

With the earmarks of a so-called “pineapple express” phenomenon, in which southerly subtropical storms make landfall in the central Sierra, there is a chance for localized and stream flooding, said Gary Barbato, a hydrologist for the Reno-based weather service.

“The snow below 7,500 feet will likely get mushy or wash away,” he said. “The good thing is that most of the snow at the lower elevations is already gone. The soils are pretty saturated, though, so I’m not saying there won’t be a problem. It is something that will have to be watched.”

Ski areas that received more than 2 feet of snow from this week’s storms are putting their best face on the possibility that today’s storm may bring more rain than snow at their bases.

Sierra-at-Tahoe, which runs vertically from 6,640 to 8,852 feet and is completely open, boasted 26 inches from this week’s storm. With snow expected above 8,000 feet, any amount is a good amount, spokeswoman Nicole Klay said.

“We were fortunate enough during the last storm to get mostly snow. Hopefully with Sierra’s amazing grooming system (the warm weather storm) won’t affect conditions too adversely,” she said. “The one thing that is great for skiers to know is that a good, wet, heavy snow can make for a great, early season snowpack.”

Holiday skiers have emerged on the slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort, considered among the busiest weeks of the year. Snowmaking equipment and recent storms have allowed the ski area to maintain about 50 inches of snow, said spokesman Russ Pecoraro.

The prospect of rain doesn’t dampen the resort’s enthusiasm for a banner ski week, Pecoraro said.

“The majority of our mountain is covered with snow. A foot of new snow expected in this storm is music to our ears,” he said. “Heavenly is 100 percent open now and any snow we add to that makes our conditions that much better.”

Daytime temperatures today and Thursday will be between 48 and 58 at lake level, with lows hovering around 31 to 34 degrees tonight, which may drop snow levels down to about 7,500 feet. Lower temperatures should keep the snow level at 7,500 feet on Thursday as the storm moves out, Barbato said.

The recent storms have brought good news to those keeping tabs on water averages at Lake Tahoe. The lake is 1.25 feet above its rim, and about 4 feet from being full, Barbato said.

So far through December, Tahoe has received 11.12 inches of rain and snow. Normal precipitation amounts through December is 10.88 inches.

“This is very good and we’re expecting quite a bit more” with today’s storm, he said.

The forecast calls for clearing after Thursday, with highs in the 40s and 50s at lake level through the weekend. Forecasters are keeping their eyes on the possibility of another weather system next week, but for now it is too early to say if it will materialize.

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