Weather Window I Skiing on the Fourth of July | SierraSun.com

Weather Window I Skiing on the Fourth of July

Mark McLaughlin
Special to the Sun
Author's Collection/Submitted to aedgett@sierrasun.com
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TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; For thousands of people, the 2011 Independence Day holiday will be remembered for years to come as several Tahoe-based ski resorts fired up their chairlifts for the summer weekend. Depending on your perception, it was either the first day of the upcoming 2012 season or the last day for 2011. Being a value-oriented consumer, I counted skiing July 3 at Alpine Meadows as the first day on my 2012 season pass.

I have a correction to make. During the epic 2011 winter, I ran a series of columns that summarized where the winter snowfall ranked on the historic scale based on measurements taken near Donner Pass, first by railroad crews and then later by scientists at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory starting in 1946. I recently discovered I erred when I converted the metric numbers for total snowfall from the Lab for the winter of 2006. In fact, the 709 inches (59 feet) of snow tallied in 2006 exceeded the 643 inches measured in 2011. That adjustment drops the ranking for the winter 2011 to the fourth snowiest since 1946, not the third. It also nudges 2011 down to ninth snowiest since 1878, not the eighth. (I apologize to those fans keeping track at home.)

The winter of 2006 was influenced by ENSO-neutral conditions in the Pacific Ocean where sea surface temperatures are in a normal phase and not exhibiting the warming or cooling characteristics normally associated with El Nino or La Nina conditions. ENSO-neutral winters are prone to and#8220;Pineapple Expressand#8221; storm patterns that bring subtropical systems with high elevation rain and snow. It’s a pattern that poses the greatest danger to regional flood-control systems, a reality that showed up when a New Year’s flood in early 2006 generated $14 million in damages on the Truckee River. The relatively minor 2006 flood should not be confused with the disastrous New Year’s flood of 1997, which also occurred during ENSO-neutral conditions.

Water year 2011 continues to climb higher in the historic rankings for precipitation. The recent June 29 downpour added another 1.3 inches to the year’s accumulation near Donner Pass, pushing 2011 past several more winters to eighth wettest since 1946 with 83.3 inches so far. The Sierra Nevada water year doesn’t end until Sept. 30 so it’s possible the historic precipitation rankings may change again. In case you’re curious how much precipitation fell in 2006, the 91-inch total made it the fourth wettest season since 1946. (Precipitation is rain plus snow melted for its water content.)

Tahoe resorts operated summer chairlifts for the first time since the mid-1990s, but the first organized July 4 ski competitions in the Sierra occurred nearly 80 years ago at the future site of Sugar Bowl. On July 4, 1932, the Auburn Ski Club sponsored a two-mile co-ed cross-country ski race. A zany contest, many of the younger women wore and#8220;modified ski outfits featuring shorts and bare legs.and#8221;

Top ranked jumpers were also invited to hike up the mountain to launch off a recently-constructed ramp. On his last leap, young Wayne Poulsen, future founder of Squaw Valley, slipped just before he got to the takeoff, knocking down a pair of skis standing in the snow and sending one point-first toward a large group of spectators at the base of the hill. It missed the head of Wendell Robie, chief judge in the competition by just three inches.

The Sierra’s first mid-summer ski competition concluded later that day, after which the sunburned skiers and spectators returned to their lairs for a hearty round of nightcaps and summer revelry in the mountains. Some things never change.

and#8212; Tahoe weather historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at http://www.thestormking.com. You can reach him at mark@thestormking.com