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TAHOE NUGGET #270: WETTEST START TO WINTER ON RECORD!

Heavy rain and high-elevation snow this October and December have gone a long way to mitigating the extreme drought conditions plaguing the Tahoe Sierra. A series of strong Atmospheric Rivers from the Pacific Ocean have pumped up water levels in Lake Tahoe and for the first time in months a strong current of water is now flowing into the Truckee River. The official start to winter is still days away!The 8-Station Index represents precipitation values for the Northern Sierra.

Heavy rain and high-elevation snow this October and December have gone a long way to mitigating the extreme drought conditions plaguing the Tahoe Sierra. A series of strong Atmospheric Rivers from the Pacific Ocean have pumped up water levels in Lake Tahoe and for the first time in months a strong current of water is now flowing into the Truckee River. The official start to winter is still days away!

The 8-Station Index represents precipitation values for the Northern Sierra. The 28.4 inches received since October 1 is more than 50% of what the region averages in a year. In many locations the month of October was the wettest of record. One storm alone added 11 billion gallons to Lake Tahoe, raising it 3 inches. Despite the boost, Big Blue still remained more than 2 inches below its natural rim. The current pace of precipitation is better than the beginning of Winter 2011, which ultimately ranked in the Top 10 as No. 8 wettest since 1871.

One Atmospheric River in October dumped more than a foot of water on Alpine Meadows ski resort. The most recent AR this past week delivered nearly 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Snow levels in mild AR events are often quite high, sometimes between 8,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. With a summit near 11,000 feet, Mammoth Mountain Resort near Yosemite was slammed with nearly 5 feet of snow on Dec. 16. The State record is 68 inches in 24 hours. Compare that with Tahoe's relatively low numbers for this same event. Tahoe resorts currently boast upper mountain bases ranging from 3 to 4 feet. Mammoth Mountain's snowpack is already 11 feet deep up top.  

Dec. 7, 2016 — Lake Tahoe was below its rim and the outlet to the Truckee River was dry.

Dec. 17, 2016 — Enough rain fell to raise Big Blue over its rim by several inches, creating a robust flow of water into the Truckee River for the first time since last summer. 

Despite relatively high snow levels in recent storms, the ski slopes are looking good for this time of year. Just in time for the crush of crowds that will be showing up for the holidays.

Early December at Donner Peak as viewed from Old Highway 40.

Chris Burt is the author of Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book.

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By Mark McLaughlin

Mark McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally published author, photographer and professional speaker with 7 books and more than 900 articles in print. Mark has lived at Lake Tahoe for 40+ years and is a popular lecturer and experienced field trip guide. Mark has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio and has appeared as an expert consultant on CNN, The History Channel, The Weather Channel, the BBC, and in many historical documentaries.

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