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It hasnât taken long for the relief generated by last weekâs storm to give way to anxiety in Mammoth.
Whatâs next, everyone wants to know. What will this winter be like?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is anything but clear.
âI donât trust forecasts any longer than 72 hours out,â said Frank Gehrke, the chief snow surveyor for the state Department of Water.
âHaving a wet December (as this one is shaping up to be, due to the last series of storms) doesnât mean a thing for the future. Iâve learned not to predict and just work on what comes.â
âThereâs no clear signal, now that El NiĂ±o is clearly going to be weak this year,â said David Pierce, a climate researcher for the Scripps Institute.
âWhen El NiĂ±o is in place, it means you can (but not necessarily will) get those heavy precipitation events but when itâs weak, thereâs not a clear signal either way.â
In other words, he said, the winter could be wet, it could be d
ry, or it could be anywhere in between.
âUnfortunately, we just donât have enough information to know more,â he said. âAnd even if there was a strong El NiĂ±o, the influence from El NiĂ±o is already weak for the Eastern Sierra.â
The series of wet storms last week, termed an âatmospheric river,â did help California with its drought conditions, he said, beginning to fill depleted reservoirs and soaking the ground with much-needed moisture.
But that does nothing to predict the coming winter.
Howard Sheckter, Mammothâs longtime amateur weatherman, was equally noncommittal.
âEveryone has agreed there will be little to no El NiĂ±o effect this winter,â he said. âNow that thereâs no bias, thereâs no strong inkling of what this winter is going to do.â
He said there are some long-range weather patterns beginning to emerge that look advantageous for snowfall in the Sierraâand some that donâtâfurther adding to the lack of certainty.
Meteorologists he spoke to have said the patterns now building look most similar (strongest weighted average) to the winters of 2000-04, 1968-69, and 2009-10. They look a little less like the winter of 1962-63 (second strongest weighted average), and a little less again (third strongest weighted average) than 2010-11.
Sheckter hadnât done the snowfall math with these winters when interviewed, but according to the data from Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service, some of the winters noted above were associated with some decent snowfallâand others were not.
For example, the winter of 2010-11 was Mammothâs biggest snowfallâ661 inches.
The winter of 2008-09 came in strong, too, with 469 inches.
But the winter of 2003-04 only dropped 348 inches, close to Mammothâs average snow depth of 351 inches. The other winters Sheckter mentioned, 1962-63 and 1968-69, occurred before data was taken on a regular basis at Mammoth Mountainâall leading up to a coming winter that even the experts arenât willing to predict.