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Mostly dry weather expected to persist ’til end of month

December 19, 2013

Crowley Lake after the first big storm of the season. Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

It’s hard to put a damper on Mammoth’s amateur weather forecaster Howard Sheckter’s optimism when it comes to winter weather, but the forecast for the next few weeks might have done so.

“It’s not good, it’s horrible,” he said. “It’s as bad as it can get by this time of year.”

He is not talking just about the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday weeks, either.

“The continents have cooled off now, and the oceans are ruling the weather,” he said. “The problem is, there is nothing out there to bring in the moisture. Without an El Niño or La Niña, there is no bias, it’s neutral. “La Nada” as I call it.  Now the National Weather Service has released its latest Drought Statement (last week) for the next few months and it’s calling for the current pattern to persist.”

The problem is the current pattern is one of dryness, he said, and that is the pattern the NWS believes is most likely to persist in California and much of the west, at least into the middle of January.

The closest analogy he sees historically is to the winter of 1990-91, where the winter remained dry until the end of February, then the floodgates turned on for a “Miracle March.”

That might recharge the snowpack and reservoirs, but in a ski town, timing is everything and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s peak visitor season begins this weekend and slowly tapers off after Presidents Weekend.

“Another problem is all the systems are going from north to south, not west to east,” he said.

A west/east direction increases the chances of moisture because it comes in over the ocean, unlike a north/south direction, where the storm travels over mostly dry land.

 “No one can say for sure what will happen but I can say for certain it won’t break significantly before the end of the year,” he said.

The NWS agreed.

“Looking beyond, the overall dry pattern will likely persist through the end of the month if not longer,” wrote the Reno NWS Wednesday afternoon.

“The Arctic Oscillation is forecast to remain strongly positive for the next 10 days, and possibly beyond. This would likely keep some ridging near the coast with the storm track remaining well north.”

It’s not to say there will not be any snow in the next few weeks. There are several small systems in the forecast that will bring some snow in the next week or so, with one around Christmas Eve and another around the end of the year.

However, they will likely measure snow in inches, not feet, Sheckter said.

After that, there might be a few storms that drop several feet toward the middle to end of January, he said.

Then, according to the NWS, patterns in February are pointing toward February being drier than January, with possible relief late in February.

The prognosis for the winter didn’t start off so glum, as Sheckter has said in previous interviews.

Earlier this fall, the jury was still out in terms of whether the winter would be an average winter or below average winter, although all along, there had been little chance of a wetter than normal winter.

But by December, Sheckter said, the forecasts “settle down” and become more accurate.

At this point, the accuracy for longer term projections is much better than it was in the fall.

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