Weather whiplash: Fires, snow have affected ski, other industries


This past year saw many local fires bring hazardous air quality to this area for weeks on end.

This was followed by an unusually large October snowfall, and a particularly late opening for all ski resorts in the Truckee-Tahoe region after weeks with little to no snowfall following the storm in October.

Alex Nikiforuk, a ski patroller at Homewood Mountain Resort, said that the later start to the ski season meant that she would end up losing several weeks of pay, as there was no work yet to be done.

“I stayed in Southern California longer with my family then,” Nikiforuk said. “Now my hours for the season will be smaller due to (the) late open. Also, it meant setting up the mountain faster for the busy holiday weekend. We didn’t have a lot of time to set up terrain and train patrollers for the new season, so a crammed opening day affected the comfort of workers on the mountain.”

Jessica Wallstrom, a rafting guide in Coloma for OARS rafting, said that the fires this past season also greatly affected her ability to work.

“The Caldor fire shut us down for a week with smoke, the low water, and now the reverse is starting to happen with potential for high water in 2022.”


December brought 213 inches of snow in some spots.
Leslie Hsu Oh

Following the fires and dry periods of November and December, the region then received record levels of snowfall that have not been seen since 1970. Following in its wake were many road closures, fallen trees, power outages, and damage to infrastructure.


Andrew Schwartz, station manager and lead scientist at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, said that while these weather events have always occurred, they are becoming more severe and frequent over time.

“One of the challenges is that when we do have these types of severe events… they are increasing in their severity, particularly in things like our snowfall and rainfall. That’s kind of a byproduct of our atmospheric warming over the last several decades… overall these types of changes and extreme events we see are definitely signatures that we would expect of climate change,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said that while individual events are hard to pin on climate change until attribution studies are conducted, these conditions and changing weather patterns are what experts would expect out of a warming climate.

In terms of snowfall, Schwartz said that those amounts have been decreasing over the last five decades. Whether there is less moisture in the snow has still yet to be determined.

Due to warmer temperatures, snowfall is gradually turning into rainfall — with rain falling at higher elevations in recent years, according to Schwartz.

Shwartz said after reviewing weather models, the rest of January is expected to have dry conditions.

“Because we are in a La Nina… here in the Central Sierra we could really go either way… it’s looking like once we get around to April, May, it will probably be on the dryer side,” Schwartz said.

Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User