Lake Tahoe hopes high for big winter; predictions mixed | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe hopes high for big winter; predictions mixed

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com
On Wednesday, water levels are seen very low in some sections of Third Creek, exposing rocks and other terrain. Hopes are high this winter for heavy snowfall to help replenish creeks, rivers and lakes in the Lake Tahoe region after a trio of low-snow years.
Margaret Moran |

BY THE NUMBERS

Snowfall in 2013-14: 297.5 inches

Snowfall in 2012-13: 326 inches

Snowfall in 2011-12: 355 inches

Snowfall in 2010-11: 810 inches

Snowfall in 2009-10: 561 inches

Snowfall in 2008-09: 480 inches

Snowfall in 2007-08: 429 inches

Source: Squaw Valley; all figures were recorded at 8,200 feet

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the correct spelling of, National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Tolby.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE — After three consecutive mild winters and an ongoing drought across western states, hopes are high for heavy snowfall this season.

“I think most people (here) have a pretty good obsession with snow, but I would say more people are aware of the consequences of the lack of snow beyond just not being able to ski powder days,” said Michelle Snyder, a Truckee resident.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 80.96 percent of Nevada was in “severe drought” as of Sept. 9, while 50.30 percent was in “extreme drought” and 11.89 percent was in “exceptional drought,” which includes the Lake Tahoe region.

This summer, low water levels have 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.

“It would be nice to see the reservoirs filled, Lake Tahoe back up where it belongs and the Truckee River bubbling along down to Reno,” said Sara Kuttel, a Truckee resident.

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

As of Wednesday, Lake Tahoe was at 6223.27 feet above sea level; its natural rim is 6,223 feet.

The last time Lake Tahoe dipped below its natural rim was October 2009 (which was the first time since October 2004), as a result of a three-year dry spell.

The record low was on Nov. 30, 1992, when the lake dropped to 6,220.26 feet.

Relief would come in the form of plenty of snow this winter, but early predictions are mixed.

Professional meteorologist and long-range forecaster Rob Guarino predicts slightly above-average snowfall and near normal temperatures at Diamond Peak for the 2014-15 winter.

He forecasts about 349 inches of snowfall for the season, where as the resort averages 303 inches. January 2015 will be the snowiest month — and a blizzard in January being a wildcard.

The Farmer’s Almanac, meanwhile, is predicting “below normal” precipitation this winter for most of California.

“Winter will be warmer than normal, with the coldest periods in late December and early to mid- and late-February,” states the 2015 Farmer’s Almanac for the Pacific Southwest. “… Mountain snows will be below normal, with the snowiest periods in early to mid-January and mid- to late-February.”

The Almanac’s prediction is based on a solar activity and ocean-atmosphere patterns.

‘CAN GO EITHER WAY’

There is a 65 percent chance of an El Niño developing this winter, said Zach Tolby, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno. As for its strength, it’s too early to predict, but as of Monday, it appears to be a weak El Niño.

“(An El Niño) does up the odds for some places, but not for us,” Tolby said. “The Sierra Nevada can go either way.”

El Niño is associated with warmer-than normal ocean temperatures, while La Niña is associated with cooler-than normal ocean temperatures. Both can bring weather extremes to parts of the nation.

“We get most of our precipitation in a couple of big storms, so if you miss one or two or get one or two extra, it has a dramatic impact on precipitation levels,” Tolby said.

Since October 2011, Tahoe City has received about 66 inches of precipitation in the form of rain and snow, when normally it would get 102 inches of precipitation, Tolby said, leaving the area about 36 inches short.

In a typical water year (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30), Tahoe City receives 34 inches of precipitation.

“A normal (winter) would be fine; higher than normal would be better,” said Mike Josselyn, a Truckee resident.

The average snowfall for Lake Tahoe is 430 inches.

While an average winter would help, it won’t get the region out of the drought, Tolby said.

To do that, a “much above” normal winter would be needed, he said.

“I think we’re all in agreement — we need some more snow,” Snyder said.