The Reno-Sparks area went without measurable rain in December for only the fourth time since 1988, though weather officials say the current dry spell is not all that unusual.
Snow enthusiasts may be a bit dismayed at the dry weather pattern in the area, especially considering last winter was the wettest ever. However, National Weather Service Reno Meteorologist Edan Weishahn says we are not too far off the average temperatures for the region.
“We’re just going through a dry period, right now in terms of a water year (October 1-September 30) we are just under average at this point,” Weishahn says
While the temperatures were above normal in from October through December, the amount of precipitation Reno/Sparks receives at this time of the year is near the average and we still have through April and May to get snow in the Sierras. According to the 8-station precipitation index for the Northern Sierras, the Reno-Sparks area has received 12.6” of rainfall, which is just a little off from an average year.
Western Regional Climate Center Regional Climatologist Dan McEvoy says that the reading from the weather station near Baring and McCarran Boulevards in Sparks shows no measurable precipitation in December, marking the fourth time there hasn’t been any precipitation since the station went up in 1988. The precipitation around the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is showing 0.11” of precipitation in December 2017.
“It was the 11th driest month since 1937, about 10 percent of normal,” says McEvoy. A weather station near Blue Canyon, located off of I-80 west of Donner Pass, showed 11.46” of precipitation in December 2016 compared to 0.88” of rainfall received this past December.
“It is one of the driest Decembers on record,” McEvoy says. The temperature has also been one degree warmer on average in the Northern Nevada region yet the mornings have been a bit chilly due to recent inversions.
McAvoy says that in South Lake Tahoe this past December was the fifth warmest since records dating back to 1968. The Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that snowpack in South Lake Tahoe measures at 30 percent below normal at this time last year (it was 67 percent above average last year) but Hydrologist Jeff Anderson says that a good storm can change snow levels pretty fast.
In looking back at Squaw Valley’s snowfall tracker, the resort received 21 inches of snow in December 2016 and only 6 inches in December 2017 (at its 6200-ft. base). However, the real snow came in January of last year when Squaw received a total of 193 inches. It started January 3 when it received over a foot of snow and continued throughout the month (receiving more than 31 inches of snowfall on January 11, 2017).
However, keep in mind that last year was an outlier in terms of snow and rainfall and not relevant to the average. Even with a drastic change in snow levels, McEvoy thinks it unlikely we will get back up to average in looking at the short-term weather forecast and lack of existing snowpack.
“Snowpack drives the water supply around here and currently we are not in good shape at all,” McEvoy says. The Tahoe basin is showing 28 percent of the long term average in snow/water pack equivalent.
“The Truckee River that flows all the way to Pyramid Lake is at 53 percent of average thanks to decent storms in November ant Mt. Rose snowpack is at 79 percent of normal. However, at lake level- Tahoe City- there has been zero snow. Two thousand feet makes a huge difference in the snowpack and we really need it at lower elevations. Even at this time last year Tahoe City only had one inch of snowpack,” he says.
Even though we may see a change in weather in the next couple of weeks, the storms coming in look a little weak and not a whole lot is expected to improve the snowpack.
“The lack of precipitation, no snowpack, and warm temperatures will make it hard to get back to average. However, the predictability of a forecast goes way down after a couple of weeks so there is still a chance,” McEvoy adds.
“We have kind of a boom or bust climate with a lot of precipitation in some months compared to nothing in others,” Weishahn says. “I’ve heard people say that January is more like ‘Juneuary’ because it’s a quiet period (in the weather system). However, we are getting a weather change this week. It’s nothing impressive, but it will be different. If people are ready for a change, wrap up your outdoor chores or decorations,” she adds.
Fortunately for snow enthusiasts the morning cold snaps in the Sierras have allowed local ski resorts to make plenty of snow until the natural stuff falls. Many of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts invested in snowmaking equipment a couple of years ago which has allowed them to open earlier each year and provide consistent, viable snow surfaces for their holiday guests.
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