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Storm gives snowmaking an early boost

October 26, 2012

The Eastern Sierra is poised halfway between fall and winter, after a sharp winter storm buffeted the area earlier this week. Warmer days are expected this weekend, but another storm could be on its way at the end of the month, meteorologists say. Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

The second snowstorm of the season—and the first significant one—dumped almost two feet of snow on Mammoth Mountain ski area this week and gave a much needed boost to local spirits, even as warmer temperatures backed slowly into the area by Friday.

The storm was a true, old-fashioned winter storm—a three-day spree of icy temperatures that dropped the thermometer into the 20s, sprinklers that froze in mid-summer action, and biting, gusty winds that slammed snow across slick and icy roads and shut down every pass in the region.

Eastside residents couldn’t be happier.

“We need it,” said longtime local Brian Knox, words that were echoed across the town and region by just about everyone.

“I’m ready for Mother Nature’s best one-two punch.”

By the time it was over, the Mammoth area received a good dose of moisture—about two inches of precipitation measured at the Mammoth Pass location just west of town. It was more than most of the Central Sierra received, all due to one big reason.

Mammoth Pass is the lowest point on the Sierra crest, something Dave McCoy, a former hydrology technician with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power knew well when he put the first rope tow up on big, hulking Mammoth Mountain many decades ago. Pacific born storms run across the Central Valley and hit the Sierra Crest, where they find easy passage over Mammoth Pass, except for one big obstacle—Mammoth Mountain.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, scheduled to open Nov. 8, got a head start with snowmaking this week, officials said.

“Snowmaking started Tuesday night and will continue as conditions permit,” said spokeswoman Joani Lynch. “The first priority for snowmaking will be Broadway, top of Chair 1, and Main Park. At this point, we do not have enough snow to open. We are expecting a warm-up this weekend, and a return to wet weather next week. We will re-evaluate next week.”

Although a high pressure ridge is expected to set up over the area beginning Friday and into the weekend, bringing temperatures in the 60s, National Weather Service meteorologist Edan Lindaman said Thursday that summer’s tight grip on the Eastern Sierra has finally been broken for good.

“October is a transition month and we are moving into a typical fall pattern, where strong high pressure ridges aren’t as common, and that will allow the storms that are out there easier access to your region,” she said.

The next chance of moisture is sometime next week, she said. “But it’s still early and the models can flip back and forth yet.”

A weakening El Niño phenomenon has lessened the chances for a wet or wetter than normal winter, but that doesn’t mean the winter won’t be either, she said. It’s simply too soon to tell.

El Niño-less winters have given Mammoth a run for its money, snow-wise—and many an El Niño winter has fizzled.

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