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Big Pine faces fire, Mammoth gets buried

March 26, 2011

A car and a dog are dwarfed by a 12-foot snowbank. Times photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

As Big Pine residents mourned the loss of homes and property due to a windblown fire this past weekend, Mammoth residents – already buried after a winter that has dumped 44.7 feet (561 inches) of snow on the higher elevations – are waiting out another three to four feet of the white stuff that’s expected to fall by Sunday night.

When Mammoth headed into the second storm of the week early Thursday, it was only 17 inches from becoming the biggest snowfall winter on record – 578.5 inches set in 2005-06 – and it’s not over yet.

“I can see possibly another 30-40 inches of snow, or about 3.25 inches of water, before this is over,” said Howard Sheckter, Mammoth’s own weather predictor, on Wednesday afternoon.

The next storm pulse is expected to hit Mammoth Saturday, with another on Monday, he said.
And even if it doesn’t snow another flake this year, that 561 inches puts this winter right in the middle of the five biggest winter on record.

By the time you read this Friday morning or over the weekend, you’ll know more than we do about whether we got there.

What we do know is that this has been one of the outright weirdest, wildest and oddest winters ever, even by Mammoth standards of oddness.

Marked by one epic, intense storm in December that gave us as more than half the snow in four days than we usually get in one year, followed by the driest February in record, then on to the current series of storms — odd because La Niña winter storms typically hit farther south and often dry up significantly by the end of February — it’s been a strange winter.

“The overall weather pattern is allowing the storms to come significantly farther south than is usual,” said Reno National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Deutschendorf.

“And it’s a big storm. You up in the higher elevations might not really see more than a lessening of the snow, instead of the breaks that some of the lower elevations will get.”

The snow-to-water ratio is at about 10 to 12 inches of snow for every inch of precipitation, he said.

The series of storms started early Wednesday morning and is expected to continue on and off throughout the weekend, finally slowing down Sunday night. The NWS expects between six and eight feet of snow above the 9,000 foot level, with lesser amounts on the valley floors east of U.S. 395.

The fact that spring officially began precisely at 4:43 p.m. last Sunday afternoon as the vernal equinox touched Mammoth, adds another level of oddness, especially to residents with 15 feet of snow on either side of their driveways.

Twice a year, around March 20 or 21 and Sept. 22 or 23, the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world. These two days are known as the March, or vernal EQUINOX=The word “equinox” derives from the Latin words meaning “equal night” and refers to the time when the sun crosses the equator. At such times, day and night are everywhere of nearly equal length everywhere in the world.

So, spring has arrived, even if Mammoth itself doesn’t feel it. The snow, while mighty and bountiful, will melt quickly, slipping away into obscurity, no match for the warming, lengthening days.

In fact, local weather predictor Howard Sheckter said he sees spring-like conditions just around the corner.

“I think we’re in for a break after this week,” he said. “I don’t see anything ‘til after April 2.”
This winter’s La Nina pattern is breaking down rapidly and he expects a much drier patterns to move into the Eastern Sierra by the middle of next week.

That said, it’s a rare April and May, even June, that doesn’t see a snowstorm or two in Mammoth.
So hold onto your hats, bring out the snorkels and hop down the hill to the daffodils in Bishop when it all gets to be too damn much.

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