Tahoe Daily Snow
By Bryan Allegretto, Forecaster Posted 2 months ago December 6, 2023
Two systems bring rain and snow to the northern Sierra Wednesday afternoon through Thursday night. The weekend looks dry again into the week of the 11th. We could see a storm around the 16th-17th, and then we could go back into a drier pattern again...
Short Term Forecast
A little bit of excitement overnight as the GFS model went crazy with the precipitation forecasts with the cold front this afternoon-evening. The latest model run is now double most of the other models and it would equate to 1-2 feet of snow NW of the lake above 7000 ft., but I'm not taking the bait as it is mostly alone.
We will actually start the day with mostly sunny skies and gusty winds with ridgetop gusts up to 60-70+ mph already. Highs will warm into the 40s and it won't quite feel like it's going to snow during the morning at lake level. Then the clouds and winds continue to increase into the afternoon with ridgetop gusts up to 90+ mph over the exposed ridges, which should close some upper mountain lifts.
The Cold Front:
The weather will go downhill pretty quickly between 1-4 PM as the cold front and associated band of heavy precipitation approach the northern Sierra, and then it sweeps through with heavy rain and snow between 2-6 PM. Here is a look at our forecast radar through Wednesday night.
Snow levels are going to be pretty high as the front starts to push precipitation across the area. Snow levels are expected to start up around 7500-8000 ft. But with the drier air in place, evaporational cooling along with the heavier precipitation rates could drag them lower to near 7000 ft., and then colder air moving in should lower them near 6500-7000 ft. by 4 PM and possibly a bit lower.
That makes the snowfall forecasts tricky below 8000 ft. because it's a question of how fast can snow levels fall during the heaviest precipitation with the front before we transition to lighter and more scattered showers for the rest of the storm. 75% of the precipitation through Thursday night could fall through Wednesday evening just with this frontal passage. For the upper mountains, we do expect several inches of snow.
Behind the Front:
Snow levels continue to fall Wednesday night and will drop to and below lake level just before or just after the heaviest precipitation moves through, bottoming out around 4500-5000 ft. by early Thursday morning. Behind the front, we expect just scattered snow showers and light accumulations of snow.
Winds will still be gusty Thursday from the west up to 60+ mph over the exposed ridges and peaks. Highs will only be in the 30s, with 20s for the upper mountains. A secondary wave moves through Thursday afternoon-eveing increasing the chances for snow showers. Then we clear out by early Friday morning.
Snow levels look to level out around 5000-5500 ft. Thursday before dropping below 4000 ft. Thursday night. The latest model runs only show a coating up to 3 inches of snow during this period for most locations, with the highest amounts for the peaks and up along the crest west of the Tahoe basin.
As I discussed at the beginning. The GFS model increased its precipitation forecasts with the cold front overnight, and the latest model run has a bullseye of up to 1.4-1.5 inches of liquid near Palisades Tahoe.
Amounts fade quickly south of the Tahoe basin. The GFS model is twice as wet as most of the other forecast models this morning. That caused the NWS to up their Winter Weather Advisory to 1-2 feet of snow for the mountains west of the lake. That makes sense as their goal is to let everyone know the worst possible scenario to keep everyone safe.
My job is to try and give you the best possible forecast for what to expect on the mountain for skiing, so I'm not going to let the GFS model get us excited about that much snow. You'd be pretty upset if I jumped the forecast to 2 feet of snow and we get 9 inches. The rest of the models have a high-end range of precipitation forecasts near the crest of only 0.5 - 0.7 inches.
I do have to put the GFS model into my average so the total model average this morning is up a bit from 0.65 inches yesterday to 0.85 inches today near the crest, with up to 0.5 inches to the east side of the basin. The WPC's blended model, which averages several models including the GFS, jumped to a high end of 1.2 inches NW of the lake, with amounts fading south to Dodge Ridge.
Final Snowfall Forecast:
The final snowfall forecast is tricky with the snow levels starting high with the heaviest snow Wednesday afternoon-evening and then dropping into Wednesday night. It's also a bit tricky south of the lake as amounts fade to the south.
I've color-coded a few mountains to the south in line with the snowfall forecast for them. At lake level, we could see a larger range between 0-3 and 3-6 inches depending on how fast the snow levels drop. The mountains above 7000 ft. I expect 2-11 inches, with the highest amounts above 8000 ft. and NW of the lake.
If the GFS model out on a limb by itself is right, then we could see over a foot of snow on the mountains, but I'd rather be too low as readers tend to be more forgiving when I err that way. Now it's time to sit back and watch what happens, and we'll tally up the snowfall totals Friday morning and compare them to the final forecast.
The Weekend Weather:
Behind the storms Friday we expect mostly sunny skies but cold. Highs only in the 30s for the lower elevations near lake level, and 20s up on the mountains. But with lighter winds so it should be a nice crisp day.
High pressure (orange) continues to build in over the region through the weekend with mostly sunny skies expected each day.
Highs warm into the 40s for the lower elevations on Saturday, and then 40s higher in elevation for highs on Sunday. It should be a beautiful weekend. Cold nights should allow for continued snowmaking.
High pressure is expected to dominate our weather pattern through the end of next week. The weather we see over the weekend should continue through next week.
The long-range models continue to show a trough (blue) digging into the West Coast around mid-month but have slowed it by a day on the latest runs, with the trough over CA by the 16th.
We continue to hope that a shift in the pattern happens and opens the door to a storm or two. The latest model runs continue to suggest that the storm door only opens briefly with high-pressure forecast to build back in over the West Coast by the 19th-20th.
There continues to be a storm showing up near the West Coast around the 15th-16th that could move through CA around the 16th-17th. Some model runs keep it to the north and weak, some move it through the Sierra with a decent shot of snow, and others have it becoming a cut-off low that stays off the coast.
We'll continue to watch the trends for this period to see if we can get any more snow. Especially since we could go dry again behind any systems, and that is leading toward the holidays. Overall the ensemble mean models show a very dry CA compared to the average for this time of year over the next two weeks.
I wish I had better news. Let's hope we get the high-end out of Wednesday's storm, that we get a storm around mid-month, and that the nights stay cold for snowmaking. That may be our best hopes for now...
P.S. Here is our latest podcast live from the airport Monday night. We changed up the show format and we hope you enjoy it! We talk about the weather patterns causing a slow start for CA and where it has been snowing so far. Give it a listen...
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