Tahoe Daily Snow

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By Bryan Allegretto, Forecaster Posted 1 month ago February 28, 2024

Biggest Storm in 4 Years?...

Summary

Mostly sunny and mild for Wednesday. A strong storm moves in Thursday with strong winds and heavy snow through Friday night with snow continuing through Saturday night. Partly sunny Sunday and Monday with snow showers possible. More storms are possible Tuesday - Friday next week.

Short Term Forecast

After a season full of El Nino pattern storms that split and weaken as they reach the Sierra, we finally have a strong cold storm from more of a La Nina-type pattern that will bring heavy snow and high winds Thursday - Saturday, and this storm is trending wetter and colder as it gets closer. A big change from most of the season so far.

Wednesday Weather:

We have one last day of sun and mild temperatures on Wednesday. Highs into the 40s. Ridgetop winds from the southwest will start to increase through the day, gusting up to 40-50+ mph by late afternoon. This is your day to get prepared for the big snowfall.

Thursday - Saturday Storm:

It was pretty amazing this morning to wake up and see all the models trending wetter and colder with the storm after it was already looking like a big storm.  There is pretty remarkable consistency and agreement among the models, which is lending to confidence in the snowfall forecasts.

The one thing I'm worried about is that people have seen a lot of hype around a lot of storms this season from forecasters outside of the mountains that didn't calculate in the southerly flows, splitting, and high snow levels, so people may not trust the hyped up forecasts for this storm and will try to travel through the Sierra, but this is a different kind of storm and mountain forecasters agree.

Timing:

The latest model runs show snow showers reaching the crest near Donner Summit NW of the lake around 3-6 AM Thursday morning, and then pushing southeast and reaching the southeast side of the lake by 11 AM. The snow starts off lighter and increases in intensity through Thursday afternoon, with the heavier snow pushing in Thursday night.

forecast radar

The heaviest snow looks to fall Thursday night and Friday night, but Friday will be pretty heavy as well, and Saturday we could see moderate-heavy bands of snow moving through that could diminish down to lighter showers Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Winds & Temperatures:

Strong winds gusting over 100 mph Thursday and Friday will close quite a few ski lifts and will blow the snow creating drifts and blizzard conditions. This will make driving hard and skiing not pleasant, and I would expect several ski areas to be closed on Friday to deal with the heavy snow and high winds. Highs in the 30s Thursday and then 20s for the upper mountains Friday.

Saturday the winds could still be gusting up to 60-70+ mph over the ridges for much of the day. That is not as bad for the more protected mountains, but with digging out from the storm and snow continuing to fall, I would expect mountains that open to be slow to get things open, and travel will still be slow to impossible as the passes will likely close at some point and may be slow to open Saturday. Highs drop into the 20s.

Precipitation Totals:

The latest model runs almost all show 6-7 inches falling near the crest, which is remarkable agreement and a small range. The outlier is the GFS model showing up to 9 inches, and it had 10 inches NW of the lake on the 0z run last night, which is crazy for 3 days. But it's an outlier. If I throw it out the model average went up a tenth to 6.6 inches near the crest, and with it in the mix, we are at 7 inches, so it's not affecting the forecast that much.

Here is the WPC's blended model showing up to 7 inches near the crest, and the European model, which tends to be a bit drier than the other models, is also showing 7 inches of liquid by Sunday morning. So with the models trending wetter overnight, I don't think 7 inches for the average is crazy, with up to 5+ inches reaching the east side of the basin.

wpc

We are less than 24 hours from the start of the storm and the trend is wetter, and the models have had 6+ inches all week. So it's hard to believe they will trend significantly drier as the storm moves in.

Snow Levels & Snow Ratios:

The latest model runs start snow levels out a tiny bit lower Thursday morning, around 6000-6500 ft. and now push some of the colder air in a bit farther south into the northern Sierra Thursday night into Friday, with snow levels dropping as low as 4000-4500 ft. and fluctuating between 4000-5000 ft. through Friday evening.

That would start the storm out Thursday with snow ratios around 7:1 at lake level which is wet, and 9-14:1 between 7000 up to 9000 ft. Then increasing to 11-17:1 from lake level up to 9000 ft. Friday. That will start to pile the snow up faster as colder air moves in and snow ratios increase.

Much colder air moves in later Friday night into Saturday with snow levels dropping to around 2000-3000 ft. This is when travel could really become difficult as we see snow down into the lower foothills. The snow ratios continue to increase, up to 15-21:1 by Saturday, and even higher for snow showers Saturday night. That will finish off the storm with powdery snow.

Snowfall Totals:

The problem with powdery snow and strong winds is that the snow blows around easily creating big drifts and low visibility. That combined with the heavy snowfall is why I would expect the highway to close at some point, which I discuss in the I-80 Daily Snow forecast. It will also make snowfall reporting difficult for the ski areas, especially as they are trying to keep digging out. 

The average snow ratios near 8000 ft. could be around 15:1 Thursday - Saturday, and you can do the math with 6-7 inches of liquid. I'm even trying to lower the snow ratios a tad due to the strong winds and still coming up with 15:1 for the average prior to Saturday night. So that is how I'm getting over 100 inches of snow on the high end by Sunday morning.

snowfall

I'll likely do one final forecast for the storm early Thursday morning as the storm is starting to move in, just as one final check that there were no significant changes. Even if we don't see a ski area break 100 inches, this will be a big storm so I wouldn't try traveling through the mountains after early Thursday morning until Sunday.

The skiing will not be very pleasant or impossible Thursday and Friday, and may be ok by later Saturday as the winds come down some for protected mountains and areas, and if roads are back open and mountains are dug out. Sunday should be the best day of the weekend as the strong winds finally come down and we could see some clearing with partly sunny skies and scattered snow showers with highs in the 20s.

Stay safe and enjoy watching the storm out the window for a couple of days, except for the ones in charge of shoveling...

Monday:

The latest model runs suggest that moisture from the next trough swinging through could reach us by Monday now. It could be similar to Sunday with partly sunny skies and scattered snow showers. Highs warming into the 30s for the lower elevations.

Extended Forecast

The long-range models continue to show troughs digging into the West Coast through the 11th-12th.

troughs

That would keep the storm door open. The latest operational model runs have sped up the arrival of the next possible storm to Tuesday...

tuesday storm

...with another storm possible by next Thursday the 7th and snow showers in between Wednesday.

thursday storm

Some models hold that second storm off until next Friday the 8th. Either way, the active pattern could continue through at least the end of next week, as well as the colder pattern.

cold air

Fantasy Range:

The long-range models still show a final trough and storm digging into northern CA around the 10th-11th. Even though the trough could hang around a bit longer that is the last storm on the latest operational model runs.

The negative PNA pattern responsible for the cold and storms is forecast to trend slowly back toward neutral/positive by mid-month, and the active phase of the MJO over the Indian Ocean, at least partly driving the -PNA pattern, is forecast to progress east. That all suggests that the pattern should start to change by mid-month or slightly earlier.

Not necessarily a dry pattern, but it could be. If we see storms we could be heading back toward a different storm track and milder storms. But that is way off in the fantasy range and we have a BIG snowstorm inbound to worry about.

Stay tuned...BA

P.S. I went back through the daily snowfall reports from the ski areas back to 2009 (when I started tracking them) to see the last time we saw a 3-day storm that dropped as much as I'm forecasting for the Thu-Sat storm. We saw a few storms over the years that dropped 90+ inches on some mountains, during memorable months you may remember like February 2023, March 2020, February 2019, February 2011, etc...

I was trying to find the biggest 3-day snowfall report in the last 15 years. The last time that I could find a mountain reporting over 100 inches in a 3-day period was Homewood from 3/15 - 3/17/2020. Other ski areas may have picked up that much as well, but that was the weekend that the Covid lockdowns started, so several ski areas were shutting down as the high snowfall numbers were being measured. 

The biggest 3-day snowfall I could find was reported by Kirkwood from 2/17 - 2/19/2011 when they reported 121 inches of snow over the 3-day period! So I'll use that as my unofficial 3-day record, and we likely won't break the record. But we seem to only pick up over 100 inches 3 day periods once every 7-8 years on average, so this could be the biggest snowfall in 4 years or more if a mountain picks up over 102 inches by Sunday.

The official state record for a 24-hours snowfall is 67 inches recorded at Echo Summit in 1982. Friday - Friday night would have the best shot at someone getting close to 60 inches if the forecasts hold, but I don't think we will break that record either. This is going to be a big storm but likely not a record-breaker. It should however drop over 3 feet in 24 hours Friday at some mountains, so it should be a beard shaver.

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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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