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Three storms stalk Mammoth

January 20, 2012

Prayers were answered. Snow dances worked. The snow gods listened.
 
Snow is coming. 
 
The storms would hardly get their own news story in a typical Mammoth winter, but after what has so far been the region’s driest winter on record (“by a fraction” according to local weatherman Howard Sheckter), these storms are big news. 
 
 “We are looking at anywhere between three and six feet above 9,000 feet,” said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the Reno National Weather Service office. “It’s certainly not record breaking, but it will be significant.”
 
Earlier this week, the weather service posted what was its first-ever January fire weather warning due to the extreme dryness of the trees and brush and grasses in the Eastern Sierra.
 
“We are seeing fuel moisture the same as it would be in summer,” McGuire said.
 
Snow-dependent retail businesses lost three major holidays that will cost them 7 to 15 percent of this year’s profits, a major reduction in hours for Mammoth Mountain workers was imminent, and the snowpack is far below normal (five percent of normal for April 1) with only a few months to catch up.
All this means the snow is very welcome.
 
McGuire expects the storms to come in three waves: the first one middling cold and snow-producing Thursday night into today (Friday); the second one warmer, beginning Friday and into Saturday; and the third one cold and snowy on Sunday into Monday.
 
Sheckter added more details.
 
“We should get a few inches Thursday night and into Friday morning, then another storm coming in Friday evening and into Saturday that could deliver two to three feet on Mammoth Mountain,” he said.
 
The pièce de résistance will be the third, coldest storm on Sunday evening. The lighter snow from this storm will hopefully add a foot or so of fluff to the wetter, heavier base layer from the previous two storms, according to Sheckter.
 
Lower elevations, like the Owens Valley, are likely to get rain rather than snow due to the relatively warm temperatures associated with this series of storms.
 
“We will see big variations in the amount of snow from each storm,” McGuire said. “We are expecting snow-to-water ratios to vary between 10-to-1 to 20-to-1, depending on how warm the temperatures are.”
 
What happens next is anyone’s guess, McGuire said. But there is something troubling hovering out in the Pacific Ocean that McGuire wishes was nowhere in sight.
 
“We do see a high pressure system parked far out in the Pacific offshore,” he said. “We aren’t alarmed yet, but we are really hoping this doesn’t move in and block the storm track again. That would really not help the snowpack issue.”

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