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After record 2019, Tahoe ski resorts left out to dry in February 2020

Justin Scacco and Bill Rozak

Special to the NNBW

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows received 3 inches of snow in February, compared to a record-breaking 313 inches a year ago.
Photo: Justin Scacco

TREUCKEE, Calif. — While other ski resorts in the Western U.S. have experienced record-breaking snowfall in February, those around the Tahoe Basin have been left out to dry.

Resorts like Copper Mountain and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado have been touting record snowfall for the month, with Breckenridge piling up 110 inches of snow this month, but the mountains in the Truckee-Tahoe area have had to make due with a single, early-February storm that delivered a scant 2 to 3 inches of snow to the slopes.

“A year ago, the storm track coming out of the Pacific was pointed right at the Sierra. This year it’s been pointed much farther north. Everything has missed us. The only precipitation that’s fallen was a small amount on the evening of the 2nd, and then a couple of days with light snow showers,” said Mark Deutschendorf, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Reno. “There’s been a persistent high-pressure area that has either been near, or over California-Nevada. We’ve been caught in an unfavorable storm pattern.”

Snow totals this month have been up to 300 inches lower this month than in February 2019, which saw record-breaking snowfall at a number of the area’s resorts.

Snowfall was recorded on 24 out of 28 days in February 2019, according to the SNOTEL site near Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe.

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows had its snowiest month ever at Squaw’s upper mountain, piling up 313 inches of snow in February 2019, compared to just 3 inches this month.

A patch of bare ground is visible during the third snow survey of the 2020 season Thursday at Phillips Station near Sierra-at-Tahoe, south of Lake Tahoe.
No-Sno-Feb-1

Tahoe City has received 1 inch of snow this month, according to the weather service, which is the lowest total since a trace amount was recorded during the month in 1988.

The total is the sixth lowest on record. Snow totals in the area have been tracked since 1904, but several years between the turn of the century and 1920s are missing.

“It has been incredibly dry in February and even in January,” said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the weather service. “We’re not in particularly good shape heading into March.”

South Lake Tahoe used to have a weather monitoring site at the airport but it is no longer in use, McGuire said.

On average, Tahoe City receives 39.8 inches of snow in February, making it the second wettest month of the year, behind January.

The latest snowpack survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources Thursday morning at Phillips Station just off U.S. Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe, showed the snowpack at about 47% of average for the time of year, compared to nearly 100% in early January during the first survey of 2020.

The snow line is creeping up the Sierra Nevada, as seen this week from Lakeview Commons looking toward Emerald Bay.
NoSnowFeb3

Little snow in January and warm temperatures in February have resulted in nearly a 50% meltdown of the snowpack.

The Tahoe snowpack has been much more bleak in the past, as recently as 2018 when it was about 25% to start March but by the 25th, it was up to 75%

McGuire also pointed out that the lower elevation SNOTEL sites “are pretty dismal.”

A spot monitored near Tahoe City at 6,700 feet is at 15% of median while the strongest number n the basin is at Carson Pass at 8,360 feet, which is still holding at 67% of normal.

NWS Reno is forecasting a storm to hit the basin Saturday night and last through Sunday morning.

“We’ve got a weak system moving in this weekend that could produce about 2-4 inches,” McGuire said and added that would be measured in March.

Meaning by March 1, the basin could possibly have more snow recorded than all of February, and this is a leap year with an extra day in the month.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun in Truckee; Bill Rozak is editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune in South Lake Tahoe.