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Winter was wetter than expected

MARK McLAUGHLIN

The 1998-99 water year officially ended June 30, effectively putting another winter behind us.

Last season set no new precipitation benchmarks here in the Central Sierra, but it did enter the record books as an unprecedented fifth consecutive wet water year – an impressive first for Northern California in 150 years of weather record keeping.

Last year’s La Nina event in the Pacific Ocean generated colder than normal sea surface temperatures and drove a vigorous jet stream into the Pacific Northwest, dumping a record 95 feet of snow on Washington State’s Mt. Baker.

In its long range outlook, the National Weather Service had predicted heavy precipitation in Washington and Oregon with drought conditions likely in Southern California. Experts weren’t sure what to expect in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region.

In this part of the Sierra, La Nina-influenced winters are usually colder than average, but precipitation values can swing either way, wet or dry.

This La Nina episode proved quite generous, however.

Skiers, boarders and resort managers rejoiced as frequent and consistently cold storms blessed the region with some of the best powder in years.

Local snow survey stations reported excellent water content in the snowpack.

The April 1 survey disclosed that the water content in the Truckee and Yuba rivers and Lake Tahoe watersheds hovered around 150 percent of normal.

To top it all off a perfectly timed three-week lull between storms during and after the Christmas/New Year holidays lured snow-starved tourists out of the Rockies and East Coast, enabling local businesses to ring up record profits.

Meteorologists were right on target with last year’s forecast.

They predicted wet in the Pacific Northwest (precipitation there averaged nearly double normal) and dry in Southern California (Los Angeles picked up only 50 percent of its average precipitation).

It was an accurate forecast and based primarily on the presence of La Nina.

Tahoe/Truckee residents have only recently restacked their ski equipment back in the garage, but the NWS’ Climate Prediction Center has already issued its forecast for the 1999-2000 winter season.

Current sea surface temperatures indicate that the pool of cold water in the Pacific is persisting and computer models now suggest that La Nina will probably stick around for next winter too.

Therefore, if you enjoyed skiing and boarding in last winter’s deep powder, the experts are betting that your first tracks in the year 2000 will be awfully sweet.

Weather hisorian Mark McLaughlin is a North Shore resident.


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