2013 one of driest years ever in Sierra; Tahoe hoping for more snow
TAHOE/TRUCKEE — Despite the 2013-14 winter getting off to a dry start, there is hope snow will come to the Truckee/Tahoe region.
“(We’ve) had seasons that started off dry and ended wet, and vice versa,” said Mark Deutschendorf, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno.
The past two winters exemplify that, with 2011-12 remaining fairly dry until March and 2012-13 starting off wet and becoming dry after December.
As for this winter, 118 centimeters — roughly 46 inches — of cumulative snowfall has been recorded by Soda Springs-based Central Sierra Snow Laboratory between Oct. 1 and Dec. 30, 2013, said Randall Osterhuber, a lab researcher.
That’s 39 percent of the average snowfall of 302 cm, or nearly 119 inches, for that time period, he said.
“We’re well below for this time of year,” said Osterhuber, even when taking into account total precipitation — which includes rainfall — over the same period.
Yet historically, the most powerful precipitation months lie ahead, he said.
“Just because December is dry doesn’t mean the next three months will be dry,” Osterhuber said.
‘ALL ABOUT THE SNOWFALL’
In the meantime, freezing temperatures and low relative humidity has allowed ski resorts such as Northstar California to make their own snow and stay open during the snowless holiday season.
“Regional and destination skiers and riders have great confidence in Northstar’s ability to ensure superb snow conditions — by way of the mountain’s world-class snowmaking system, Mother Nature or a combination of both,” said Rachael Woods, senior manager of communications for the resort. “In fact, Northstar has continued to open additional trails during the holiday week.”
On Tuesday, Northstar reported having 30 trails open, with 26 groomed.
“Everybody’s been saying that conditions are pretty good,” said Brendan Mooney, store manager for Tahoe Dave’s Skis & Boards in Truckee. “… All the mountains are getting new stuff open every day, so that’s kind of nice.”
While business has been slightly slower than this time last year due to the lack of snow, the shop has still been busy, he said.
Mike Pavel, owner of Mtn. Mike’s Sports in Olympic Valley, however, has seen business drop about 50 percent for this time of year.
“It’s all about the snowfall,” he said. “Most of our people that come up are from San Francisco. They follow the weather, and they can see it now with all the online information and television news. They know it’s a dry winter, so they’re saving their money.”
Business at Rosie’s Cafe in Tahoe City, meanwhile, was good during Christmas week, said general manager Deanne Myers.
“They’re eating — what else are they going to do?” she said. “They’re eating and shopping.”
HOPES VS. REALITY
Myers, Pavel and Mooney all said they are hoping for more snow — with a few conditions. Ideally, it would snow during the week, leaving Fridays and the weekends clear.
“We say, ‘If it’s snowing, they ain’t going,’” Mooney said. “… We need snow, but we don’t want it to snow (for) weeks straight because we wouldn’t do any business. Travel has to accessible — that’s the thing.”
Ideally, plenty of snow will fall in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20.
“That’s our next big weekend,” Pavel said. “If we get good snow and the whole mountain is open, then people will just be jamming up here the whole rest of the winter.”
Dry weather is predicted for the beginning of January. According to NWS, the extended forecast for Truckee and Lake Tahoe calls for sunshine and high temperatures in the mid- to upper-40s.
High pressure near the California coast is blocking any storm systems in the Pacific Ocean from reaching the Sierra, Deutschendorf said.
A dry start to 2014 — in conjunction with 2013 being the driest calendar year recorded by the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in its 67-year history — has regional water officials worried.
“Right now, our water storage is at 90 percent of average for this time of year, so we are in good shape for the time being, but we’re very concerned about the continuing dry forecasts,” said Tony Firenzi, deputy director of technical services for Placer County Water Agency, in a statement.
Another concern is the potential risk for wildfires due to lack of moisture.
“We’re just going to keep a watch out,” Deutschendorf said. “There is still a lot winter left, so things can change.”
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