Squaw Valley and many areas of the Tahoe Basin recently scored the 3rd snowiest March in 46 years. We still have 10 days left to add to these numbers. According to Sam Kieckhefer the Public Relations Director at Squaw-Alpine. “191 inches has fallen in March” says Kieckhefer The top spot was the 2010/11 with 202 inches according to Kieckhefer at Squaw-Alpine. The term “Miracle March” was coined by locals in the 1990-91 season when the Tahoe Basin was experiencing the worst drought on record. Ski areas that year were suffering significant losses with 10-15% of normal snowpack. In that season, many resorts scored over 200 inches in March snowing nearly every day, putting a significant dent in the drought. Miracle March was being thrown out on the lifts last week, however the reality is that we still have a ways to go to catch those numbers (250 inches fell at Sugar Bowl that during Miracle March in 1991).
Snowpack is measured in the amount of water in the snow. This would correlate to the total water runoff when the snow melts and runs into nearby streams and river basins. The Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) prior to last weeks storm was nearly 25-30% of average. Currently that number has risen to nearly 50% of normal. Last weeks storm came in with low density snow (Roughly 5% water) with 15:1 ratios on average (1 inch of water equals 15 inches of snow). According to Chris Johnston at the National Weather Service in Reno snow totals exceeded 50 inches in many areas around the lake. The Sierra Crest above 8,000 feet saw roughly 6.4 inches of water and 90-105 inches of snowfall. “Its a bit unusual to see such a deep cold storm in March where usually this would have fallen earlier in the season” according to Johnston.
Below: Current Snow Water Equivalent -in percent of average for California. Source: California/Nevada River Forecast Center.
I chased from Salt Lake City to Truckee and rode double digits of powder for 4 days straight from Wednesday to Saturday. Here is a brief recap below.
Day 1: 9-17 (Medium density) inches at Squaw Valley with Low crowd factor- bonus – snowing all day
Day 2: Chased to Mammoth with upper mountain closed the prior day. Skies cleared by 10AM with Patrol working hard to open upper lifts (Bluebird powder day). Patrol completed all work at 1PM and announced some bad news- “Visibility is deteriorating and we are keeping upper mountain closed.” You could hear a pin drop with the line up of over 100 folks going silent. There are 3 die heard Hawaiians who chase regularly to Mammoth (Surf to Powder) from Oahu that never miss deep days.
Below: The 3 that chased from Oahu waiting for upper mountain Thursday – Jason, Alika and Mark. They are die hards loyal to the chase from Hawaii nearly 8 times per season.
Day 3: Squaw Valley reports 20 inches overnight in line for 2nd chair for KT 22. Snowing heavily 2-3 inches per hour (Low density) with another 13 inches that morning (30 Plus inches for opening runs). Bonus: Roads were closed surrounding the resort and I-80 keeping crowds to a minimum. Its likely 24 hour totals exceeded 40 inches by last chair Friday. One of those days to ride till closing and a memory not to be forgotten.
Below: Powderchaser Steve- Day 3 of the chase at the Squaw Base area. Photo: Luke Stone- Powderchasers.com
Day 4: Squaw Valley reports another 17 inches overnight and still snowing heavily. My wake up call was 4:30 AM and I finally nabbed 1st chair that day on KT after arriving around 5:45 AM. Another 5-7 inches fell prior to the lifts opening at 9:30AM (22 inches overnight).
Here is a look at snow totals published by the National Weather Service in Sacramento on Saturday morning for the previous 24 hours. Most areas picked up between 75-105 inches for the week.
Day 4-5- Chased to Snowbird Sunday for upper mountain openings (20 inches plus) and ended up at Steamboat for my final day with 16 inches of freshies on Monday morning. My 6 days of chasing net me over 150 inches of powder.
According to Sam Kieckhefer at Squaw last weeks storm totals topped out at 105 inches. There were 2 periods of 42 inches in 24 hours which ties the an all time record. The next closest dump was in 1983 with 40 inches in 24 hours. It was the 3rd best March for Squaw-Alpine on record of the resort.
The week ahead looks extremely wet according to Powderchasers.com. An atmospheric river of moisture is aimed at the Sierra Wednesday-Saturday. Significant rain below 7500 feet is likely for the Sierra through Thursday. Wet snow will be falling at upper elevations (4-7 feet) especially at the Mammoth Summit. Rain at the bases will turn to snow in most areas by Friday morning. 1-2 feet of better density snow is possible late this week moving into the weekend with a cooling trend. Will March of 2018 go out tipping the scales of earlier years records? “I don’t personally think it will happen at mid mountain elevations but it’s certainly possible at the summits”. One thing is for sure, the water charts will be climbing significantly this week and thats a good thing. Significant snowfall will be seen this week at the summits of the Sierra.
Below: Total precipitation through Friday (6-8 inches of moisture is possible). Image: Weatherbell