One bad snow season is enough to make any skier or snowboarder lose a significant portion of their sanity. Two bad snow seasons in a row creates widespread, infectious disillusionment. Three bad seasons in a row simply makes one numb. Four bad seasons in a row may very well cause exodus.
“It just doesn’t snow here anymore.” – Chris, Tahoe local
“I didn’t even get a pass this year. What’s the point? Especially when it’s been so nice here in the Bay.” – Peter in San Francisco
Lake Tahoe, California is teetering on the edge of experiencing it’s fourth bad winter in a row. Snow hasn’t hit the ground in Lake Tahoe since December 31st, 2014. That in itself isn’t shockingly rare. What’s causing locals to fret is the forecast. The current forecast is showing nothing but sun and above average temperatures. There’s talk of no storms through mid-February. Locals know this only too well and you can see the disenchantment on their faces and hear the despair in their voices.
“NO PRECIPITATION IS EXPECTED FOR THE NEAR FUTURE SINCE THE STORM TRACK IS DISPLACED WELL EAST OF THE REGION” – Reno Branch of the National Weather Service, January 16th, 2015
“There’s an excellent chance that January 2015 could go down in the record books as the driest on record across a wide swath of California–especially near the Bay Area, where a number of stations have a respectable shot at recording 0.00 inches for the entire calendar month.” – Weatherwest.com, Jan. 18th, 2015
“By January 6, the average water content of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack averaged just 5 inches—43 percent of normal for this time of year.” – 2014 NOAA Report
This lack of snow problem compounds itself when you realize that Tahoe has only about 3-10 slushy inches of snowpack right now and that it’s going to take a few big storms to fill this place in enough to allow for meaningful off-piste skiing and riding. With zero storms on the horizon, we’ll be fortunate to have any kind of snow base come February.
So, where are we right now, snow-wise, and how bad were the past two winters?
“So far for Winter 2015 we’ve received 179 cm snowfall, 41% of ave for January 20. As of Jan 20 1977 [Tahoe’s worst snow year on record] we had received 130 cm snowfall.” – Randall Osterhuber, lead scientist at the UC Berkley Donner Summit Snow Laboratory
“We measured 494 cm snowfall for Winter 2014, it ranks 68/69 for snowfall (only 1977 had less). Average annual snowfall for our station is 1038 cm.” – Randall Osterhuber
So right now, we’re at about 40% of normal snowfall for the 2014/15 winter. 2013/14 was the 2nd worst winter on record in Lake Tahoe.
The brokenness in Tahoe started in 2011/12 when Tahoe received 80% of average snowfall. 80% doesn’t sound bad but all the snow came in March and April. Tahoe didn’t get any snow at all until January 20th that winter. 2012/13 was worse with 53% of average snowfall. 2013/14 really hurt with only 48% of average snowfall for the season, the 2nd worst winter on record.
Expectations for this winter are already low leading us to ask the ugly question: “Is Tahoe Broken?”
Most likely not, but it sure feels that way right now. Tahoe has experiencde droughts before with extremely dry periods in the 70s and 80s being infamous around here. In 1977, Tahoe had it’s worst snow year on record with only 183″ of snow putting that year at 45% of average annual snowfall.
“Many of the pros around here have already left to find snow or have moved away. The past two years scared them off and what we’re seeing so far isn’t encouraging.” – John, local business owner
Why is California and Lake Tahoe in such a extreme drought? Simple: a vicious ridge of high pressure has been sitting off the California coast blocking any storm system from coming into California for 3 1/2 years.
So how does one stay positive about the current state of Tahoe snow?
We stay positive like we always do around here: We go skiing and riding, we remain thankful that we live in such a gorgeous place, and we playfully tease our minds with the knowledge that at anytime a large, powerful series of storms can form and intensify in the Gulf of Alaska while high pressure sets in over British Columbia dropping the Jet Stream straight down to Northern California sending us our beloved atmospheric rivers along with cold temperatures resulting in copious amounts of snow sending the rest of the skiing and snowboarding world into a frenzied, jealous awe. That’s how.