Lake Tahoe 2017-18 winter forecast: ‘Be ready for everything’

Bill Rozak
A snowboarder takes in the sights in February before shredding down the mountain at Heavenly Valley Resort.

Could the snowfall on Friday, Sept. 8, on mountain passes off Highway 88 be a sign that we’re in store for another heavy winter?

Skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts surely hope so. On the other hand, those still traumatized from the constant shoveling brought on by the drought-busting winter of 2016-17 might feel weary at the thought of winter.

Regardless of opinions, experts are in their annual mode of collecting information, trying to gauge what the upcoming season will bring.

And most forecasters say that a repeat of last year, when the Tahoe Basin and much of the Sierra Nevada saw some of the largest snow totals on record, is unlikely and that a more normal winter might be in store.

There is still a small chance of a La Nina and a smaller chance of an El Nino, but all forecasters agree snowfall totals remain unpredictable, especially in the Sierra Nevada.

“The big challenge in the Sierra is that we don’t have a great indicator of if it will be a big winter or dry season,” Nina Oakley, regional climatologist for the National Weather Service based out of the Desert Research Institute in Reno said Wednesday, Sept. 13. “We live in a land of extremes. It’s wait and see and be prepared for everything.”

Oakley said the conditions show the weather pattern in an ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) Neutral state, which means trade winds blowing across the equatorial Pacific are not strengthening or weakening. Oakley said last year there were slightly enhanced winds over the western equator that produced a weak La Nina, “which led to a bomber winter with lots of snow at higher elevations.”

According to the National Weather Service, El Nino happens when temperatures in the Southern Pacific Ocean are above normal and La Nina happens when temperatures are below normal.

Bryan Allegretto, the Tahoe forecaster for, said the forecast models were opposing all summer with some showing El Nino and others La Nina.

“There has been a lot of cooling of the sea surface temps the last few weeks in that area along the equator and it is starting to look more likely that we could see at least a weak La Nina,” Allegretto wrote Sept. 10 in his weather blog.

He also said there may be a pattern developing that could bring a colder winter with colder and drier storms than last year, but more information will be available in October as we get closer.

Heavenly Mountain and Kirkwood Mountain resorts each received more than 600 inches of snow last year, something that likely won’t happen again this year.

“Based on historical data, I’d be very surprised if we had a big year again,” Oakley said. “It’s very rare when big years happen back-to-back.”

The 2018 edition of the venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac, which was founded in 1792, says the overall winter in the West will be much colder, not colder than normal, and also not as wet as last year. And they’re looking for a return to more normal winter conditions in regards to temperature and precipitation.

It’s still too early for meteorologists to pinpoint what exactly will happen this winter, but it’s never too early to prepare for the season, meaning have your snow boots, shovels, and blowers at the ready.

“The weather forecasts, they’re all over the board right now for our area,” Oakley said.

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