Is Tahoe Broken? | Are 4 Bad Winters in a Row Possible?

SnowBrains |
no snow please
Does this symbol represent Tahoe now?

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

Squaw Valley last week looking very dry.  photo:  brandon walsh tahoe realty
Squaw Valley last week looking very dry. photo: brandon walsh tahoe realty

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.

Extreme drought in Lake Tahoe, CA right now.  Extreme has taken a new turn in turn.
Extreme drought in Lake Tahoe, CA right now. Extreme has taken a new turn in turn.

“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

In this handout image provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists fly over the Tuolumne River Basin of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range to measure the snowpack on Sunday, March 23, 2014.
In this handout image provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists fly over the Tuolumne River Basin of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range to measure the snowpack on Sunday, March 23, 2014.

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 snow lab at 6,900 feet on Donner Summit, CA.  photo:  thestormking.com
The snow lab at 6,900 feet on Donner Summit, CA. photo: thestormking.com

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.

no snow
Back of KT-22 at Squaw on December 13th, 2013.

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

big snow
KT-22 in the record breaking 2011 winter. photo: snowbrains.com

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.

The Ridge of high pressure that has been blocking CA.
The Ridge of high pressure that has been blocking CA.  NOAA image from this week.

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.


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17 thoughts on “Is Tahoe Broken? | Are 4 Bad Winters in a Row Possible?

  1. there’s this story and the one following it: conclusion, California needs a major reactor melt down, and sooner than later! just saying, it worked once……

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)
  2. No Snow for YOU!!!

    The ceo/pres of Squaw in a previously public editorial in the sierra sun newspaper 2014 stated, “ski resorts are not all about snow,,,,,” ok really??, to paraphrase Dr. Phil, ‘how’s that working for ya?’

    Hosting winter olympics? ha, out of the question,,,
    Upgrades to Red Dog, Granite Chief lifts?, ha, out of the question,
    Investing and upgrading snow making? well, shoulda fixed those sub schedule 80 pipes this past summer as originally planned, right!?!
    Village development of over 1,000 new rooms and an 80,000 sq/ft indoor water park to attract visitors year round, hmmmm, how’s the water supply looking for that now and why would any destination traveler even want to consider coming to Tahoe for a winter ski vacation in light of past 3 years conditions??

    Looks like FIS may need to find another venue for the World Cup Skier/Snowboard cross in early March unless it dumps

    Don’t think Tahoe is ‘broken’ but continual broken snowmaking pipes is an accurate metaphor for KSL/CEO development dreams…. KSL investors should seriously reconsider where they spend their money.

    .01″ of an inch of rain so far in SAC for Jan 2015, will be the lowest ever on record, even beating last year of .2″. Kinda scary for the whole state, agri business and all, bit more important than Tahoe snow sports..

    peace out

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +2 (2 votes)
  3. i lived in Tahoe 04-07, 2004 was such a deep year, rode pow all over tahoe, so much snow even Diamond Peak was a great time, touring was fuckin fantastic, such a bummer 4 seasons of no snow, not snowing in the PNW this year either couple pow days but it’s gonna be 60 degrees and sunny on Sunday, where the fuck is winter

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +2 (2 votes)
  4. it’s like being a bear, they just know when it’s time

    it’s like saying, i’m going to take a day “off the hill”
    and before you know it’s around 7:00 am and your body starts getting antsy, why? cause it knows it’s about that time
    time to suit up, show up, load up
    it is in our blood-
    oh what i’m i to do
    only some understand
    oh what i’m i to do
    if i don’t get to
    go down hill 80 days this year
    it is the only thing i truly hold dear
    it is the only thing I can endure
    oh please

    let history repeat it’s self
    Peace

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)
  5. Climbing was so good again tday weather is what it is grateful to live here and do the awesome things we get to do in one of the most beautiful places on earth, embrace what we have no matter what the weather does.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)

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