Tahoe Daily Snow

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By Bryan Allegretto, Forecaster Posted 2 months ago December 4, 2023

Making Do with Inches & Snowmaking...

Summary

We have a dry and mild pattern through Tuesday. Two weak systems bring some rain and snow showers Wednesday through Thursday night. The weekend looks dry again into the week of the 11th. We could possibly see a few storms around the 15th-19th.

Short Term Forecast

We are back under the control of high pressure over CA with dry and mild weather. We will see mostly sunny skies Monday and Tuesday with highs into the 50s for the lower elevations, and 40s for the upper mountains.

Wednesday - Thursday Systems:

We are still tracking a pair of weak systems that will brush us on the southern edge, just like most storms have so far this season. Not including all the storms missing us just to our north.

The first system is warmer and could be slightly wetter. The latest model runs still suggest rain and snow showers could reach the northern Sierra around late morning and push across the Tahoe basin and to the south by early afternoon.

wed storm

We will have strong ridgetop winds if you are looking to get up in elevation to avoid the rain in the lower elevations. So watch for ridgetop gusts from the southwest up to 80-90+ mph and likely some upper mountain lift closures keeping you down in the rain and wet snow. Highs drop into the 40s for lake level and 30s for the mountains.

The snow levels look to start up around 7500-8000 ft. Wednesday morning and only lower to around 6500-7000 ft. during the afternoon. Of the two systems most of the rain and snow are expected to fall during this warmer period during the day on Wednesday. Then lighter showers could linger into Wednesday night with snow levels falling below 6000 ft. (lake level).

We could see a break in the action Thursday morning before a colder and weaker system tries to brush us with a few more snow showers later in the day into Thursday night.

snow showers

A few model runs even miss us completely, but most brush us with some very light precipitation amounts. The winds will still be gusty Thursday with ridgetop gusts up to 50-60+ mph. Highs will be a bit colder, only in the 30s down to the lower elevations.

In total, the latest model runs have a range of 0.2 - 0.8 inches of total precipitation on the high end up along the Sierra crest, with the highest amounts NW of the lake near Donner Summit, with amounts fading south of the lake toward Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge. The total model average is around half an inch near the crest, down some from Sunday with the wettest models falling in line with the drier models.

total precipitation

It's pretty frustrating watching storm after storm barely rush the northern/central Sierra, with much higher amounts just to the north over Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta in the southern Cascades. Enough for them to pick up over a foot of new snow with these storms.

The GFS and Canadian models are the farthest south and wettest of the forecast models still. The Canadian model seems to have a bias farther south than the other models so far this season, and it tends to be wrong so far. Based on the latest model runs, here is my updated snowfall forecast for Wednesday - Thursday night.

snowfall

Mostly rain is expected for lake level with maybe a dusting of snow Wednesday and again Thursday night. The upper mountains should pick up most of their snowfall Wednesday when it's wet, and then a dusting to an inch of additional snowfall is possible Wednesday night and Thursday night.

The good news is colder will move in with the 2nd storm with colder nights for snowmaking Thursday night and again Friday night along with drier air Friday night for what should be prime conditions for making snow. Unfortunately, we are still relying on snowmaking with the lack of snow so far this season, but the ski areas are expanding terrain slowly but surely.

The Weekend:

High pressure is forecast to start building in again by Friday through the weekend bringing back a drier pattern.

ridge

We look to be on the east side of the high off the coast which should keep us a little cooler than if we were on the west side. We should see mostly sunny skies each day with highs into the 40s for the lower elevations and around lake level.

Extended Forecast

We continue to look into our crystal balls for any signs of bigger storms. Unfortunately, the pattern looks pretty dry for the next 10 days through at least the 13th-14th.

dry pattern

Fantasy Range:

Beyond 10 days out into the fairly unpredictable and speculative "fantasy" range, the long-range models continue to show a better pattern for West Coast storms possibly setting up by mid-month into the 3rd week of December.

gfs trough

This pattern may not last, but it could open the door to a few storms. The ensemble mean models suggest near to slightly above precipitation is possible between the 15th-20th.

wet pattern

Not overly exciting in a normal season, but somewhat exciting to watch this season with the slow start. Hopefully, we can get at least a few days of active weather with some bigger snowstorms before the holidays. I'm still hoping for a Christmas Miracle...

November Recap:

The month of November was not good for snowfall as we officially only picked up 5 inches of snow at the Sierra Snow Lab near Donner Summit. 

snowfall

That was tied with November 1986 for the 4th lowest snowfall total for the month of November since 1970. It wasn't a completely dry month, however. We had some storms but they came in warm with higher snow levels and rain for the lower elevations including up to 7000 ft. near the Snow Lab. In total we picked up 4.7 inches of precipitation.

nov water

If that were all snow we would have picked up 4 feet of snow instead of 5 inches. Interestingly, with the cold snaps during the drier periods and cloud cover from the stormy periods, we ended up with an average temperature of 34 degrees for the month at the Truckee airport reporting station, which is 2.1 degrees below the November average. 

October wasn't very good either for snowfall and combined through the end of November, we only saw a total of 8 inches of snow. That drops us to a 3-way tie with 1986 and 1996 for the 2nd lowest snowfall on record for the period since 1970. We only received 18% of the snowfall average through 11/30.

oct nov snowfall 2

Looking at total precipitation for Oct-Nov the numbers are a little better, but we still ended the period with only 59% of average total precipitation.

rainfall 2

So we have had a slow start to the season for storms, but also for cold storms with the higher snow levels compounding on top of the lack of wet storms to bring us only 18% of average snowfall, and we haven't started December much better with only 6 inches of snow so far through the 3rd.

Looking at the 10 seasons since 1970 with the lowest snowfall through November, we see 10 seasons that had 20" or less. Here is what happened with snowfall for the rest of the season those 10 seasons.

low snow years

The average of the 10 for season totals through May was close to 300 inches, with only one season ending up above the 390-inch average for the Snow Lab. That was 2005-06 which started out almost as bad as this season but ended up with 426 inches of total snowfall.

The later that we go into December continuing a very low season-to-date snowfall average, the harder it becomes to even reach average let alone above average. We would need a big finish to the month and above-average snowfall pretty much each month through March. We've seen crazier things, but historically those are the numbers.

The season is strange and has looked very anomalous since earlier in the fall. This was the first season in 18 seasons forecasting for the northern Sierra that I didn't put out a seasonal snowfall forecast by the beginning of November. At the beginning of November, I instead said whoa! this is different, and I'm going to just forecast within 2 weeks this season, and I cautioned against anyone suggesting more than average this season.

seasonal forecast

I don't think some took caution based on some of the venting I'm seeing on social media about "where is the big El Nino season we were promised?" Of course, things could pick up with some big storms and snowfall as we go through the season. But I'm still sticking to short-range forecasting within 2 weeks for the rest of this strange season.

Stay tuned...BA

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About Our Forecaster

Bryan Allegretto

Forecaster

Bryan Allegretto has been writing insightful posts about snow storms for over the last 15 years and is known as Tahoe's go-to snow forecaster. BA grew up in south Jersey, surfing, snowboarding, and chasing down the storms creating the epic conditions for both.

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