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Another warm Sierra winter likely; drought to persist

Staff report
The slopes of Squaw Valley, seen here Sunday morning, saw 1-2 inches of snow from a small weather event that brought cold temperatures and rainfall to lake level over the weekend.
Courtesy Matt Palmer / Squaw Valley |

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Complete recovery from the drought gripping California and other western states is not likely this winter, according to a recent forecast.

“While we’re predicting at least a two in three chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout (California), with such widespread extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” Mike Halpert, acting director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center, said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Lake Tahoe dipped below its natural rim of 6,223 feet above sea level for the first time in five years. On Tuesday, Lake Tahoe was at 6222.78 feet.

Tahoe’s drought is predicted to persist, according to a NOAA drought outlook map for Oct. 16, 2014, through Jan. 31, 2015, with the potential for slow drought recovery later in winter and early spring for the Sierra.

This prediction is based in part to El Niño, according to NOAA, which is associated with warmer-than normal ocean temperatures.

As of earlier this month, conditions needed to declare an El Niño had not occurred. NOAA predicts a 67 percent chance of development by year’s end.

While a strong El Niño often pulls more moisture into California during winter months, this year’s El Niño, if it develops, is expected to be weak, offering little drought relief.

NOAA’s seasonal outlook does not predict where and when snowstorms may hit or total seasonal snowfall. Snow forecasts depend on the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

As for temperature, a warmer-than-average winter is predicted in the West, including the inter-mountains.

“This outlook gives the public valuable information, allowing them to make informed decisions and plans for the season,” Halpert said in a statement. “It’s an important tool as we build a weather-ready nation.”

Over the summer, low water levels at Tahoe resulted in various early closures, including the Sand Harbor boat ramp in late July, along with Tahoe City-based commercial rafting companies providing service on the Truckee River.

Further, more than 300 people had to be rescued in early August when the Tahoe Queen paddle wheeler became stuck on Lake Tahoe after hitting a sand bar near the South Shore.


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