Hydrological Hammer of the Gods or Hot Air?

A forecast predicting 15 feet of snow gives a local the vapors

Most likely the only time I will ever report a weather forecast is to bring you this snapshot of Monday’s seven-day Quantitative Precipitation numbers. Note the two biggest digits on the map, centered on California’s Sierra Nevada range: 18 inches and 18.9 inches. That means it’s expected to precipitate 18-plus inches of water around the Sierra crest—accounting for typical 10:1 snow-to-water ratios, that suggests about 15 feet of snow above elevation 8,500 or so. The local weather guru in Mammoth is predicting 12-16 feet on the upper mountain.

And now, as I write this, the Tuesday seven-day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast is up. I don’t even know what to do with this.

qpf2

Holy mother of God.

I honestly hope that’s just some kind of glitch.

So, am I saying that it’s going to be an fifteen-foot 20-plus foot powder day next Tuesday? No. Five days out, the models are dodgy and half of that precip is supposed to come with a warm storm, so it’s quite possible that it will be downgraded a little over the next couple of days. And, if the storm cycle finishes wetter, we won’t be skiing much more than the top 20 inches of however many feet anyway.

I’m not hyping a 20-foot storm this week, or a return to the glory days of 2011. I’m hyping the most insane forecast ever. But I did spend the afternoon organizing my shovel collection and chopping kindling.

But I don’t give a damn because for a skier the QPF is the only thing worth caring about in the weather report and I’ve never seen a number that high. Twenty-five! The closest I’ve seen was 13 inches before the New Year’s storm of 2011, when Mammoth Mountain got 11-13 feet in three days. For proof, here’s some non-stabilized video shot by Nate Wallace while he was on vacation from Chamonix, featuring my neighborhood powder zone in Mammoth and a sweet alpine ramp above nearby Convict Lake. Note that there was essentially zero snow on the ground just four days before this was shot. (Also, if you find super brutal metal abrasive, you may want to turn down the volume. Or ignore the whole thing because it’s old and just read on.)

At any rate, I’m not hyping a 20-foot storm this week, or a return to the glory days of 2011. I’m hyping the most insane forecast ever. But I did spend the afternoon organizing my shovel collection and chopping kindling. According to the Reno NOAA office, “Bottom line…confidence is growing in the development of an atmospheric river storm for this coming weekend into early next week with copious amounts of precipitation.”

The forecast is calling for windy and coldish storming this week totaling out to about 10 inches of precip at high elevations, and then that looming wetter second phase over the weekend with snow levels rising at times to as high as 9,000 feet, or exactly high enough to properly infuriate Tahoe skiers.

From a ski perspective, even if the Sierra just gets half the predicted snow, it will be true Game On in the backcountry here (once we dig out). While the Mammoth area and north are already holding a good amount of snow up high, the massive (and currently dry) southern end of the range and hopefully some lower elevations could come into play in a way that hasn’t really happened since, well, 2011.

And of course the predicted feet of heavy snow over feet of wind-loaded lighter snow is obviously a great scenario for a serious avalanche cycle. Hopefully the fun backcountry terrain does some self-cleaning during the storm(s), but in any case I’ll be taking advantage of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol’s excellent avalanche control work until sometime next week.

Pro tip: Check the avalanche forecast—in Mammoth, the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center and in Tahoe, the Sierra Avalanche Center.