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Part II of big storm in full swing! Wind hits 107 mph

November 19, 2010

A common sight in Mammoth on Saturday morning. Photo/George Shirk

(Updated 9 a.m. Sunday) The other shoe of the Big Storm dropped on Mammoth Saturday night and Sunday.

After a lull in the action on Saturday afternoon, the second wave of the storm kicked into high gear overnight, starting at about 10 p.m. Saturday and running into Sunday. At the top of Mammoth Mountain, a wind gust of 107 miles an hour was recorded at 4 a.m. Sunday

By 8 a.m. Sunday, the wind had calmed to an average wind speed of 32 miles an hour and a foot and a half of new snow was on the ground at the Sesame Snow Study Site, near the Main Lodge at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

The traffic line to get to the Chair 2 parking lot of Main Lodge stretched all the way from the ski are to Main Street, then back down Main Street, according to Mammoth Lakes Police Department radio dispatches.

The Saturday night action followed the first wave, which hit on Friday night, when a giant Gulf of Alaska cold front slammed into the Sierra.

By 8 a.m., a foot-and-a-half of new snow was on the ground at the Sesame Snow station at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Wind reached a maximum of 102 miles an hour at the top of the 11,053-foot Mammoth Mountain at 5 a.m.

But that was only the beginning.

At about 9:30 a.m., Saturday, one car was on its roof at Benton Crossing Road at U.S. 395 and California Highway Patrol was on the scene.

At least three to five feet of snow are forecast above 8,000 feet and lower Mammoth and Mono County could see more than a foot on the ground by Monday night.

The storm will be the coldest of the year so far, making it a veritable snowmaking machine, according to Reno-based National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Hoon.

“As much as two and a half feet of snow for every inch of precipitation could be generated by the storm,” he said.

“This is in contrast to warmer sub-tropical storms, which usually generate about 10 inches of snow to every inch of precipitation.”

The first shot of snow began Friday evening, accompanied by temperatures in the 20s and 30s. And that marked the warm part of the storm, Hoon said.

Through Saturday, temperatures are expected to drop even lower, perhaps into the teens.

Since Mammoth is right in the middle, it’s too soon to predict the final outcome, he said.

Mammoth’s weather forecaster, Howard Shecter, did stick his neck out this week with a prediction, however.

He believes the weather patterns are aiming Mammoth and Mono County toward a wetter than normal winter, with “between 100 and 120 percent” of normal snowfall.”

The thing both forecasters agree on at this time is that the winter is likely to be relatively short.

“In a big La Nina winter like this one, one common factor seems to be that you will get most of your moisture between November and January, with a relatively dry February, March and April,” Hoon said.

By Saturday night, the snow will really begin to accumulate and by Sunday, with temperatures still in the 20s and teens, Mammoth could have as much as several feet on the ground.

“Even though this storm does not have much moisture associated with it, the cold temperatures make for more efficient snowmaking,” he said.

“When it’s really cold, the snow crystals are more effective at “grabbing” the little bit of moisture that is in the air and adding it to snowflakes, increasing their size.”

The storm is also brought strong winds and blizzard conditions, as the cold front displaced the unusually warm weather that has dominated the past week in Mono County, he said.

That means possible problems for drivers, especially if compounded by the icy roads that come with such cold temperatures.

“Travel is likely to be disrupted in some places in Mono County, especially over the passes,” he said.

The storm is expected to persist through the weekend and into next week, finally exiting by Tuesday, he said.

After that, the temperatures will slowly warm up, with clear skies and seasonal temperatures forecast for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Another storm might be in the works the first week of December, he said,

After this?

Hoon isn’t quite ready for making a long-term forecast for the winter yet, especially for the Central Sierra, where Mammoth sits.

Although a strong La Nina winter like this one usually brings wetter than normal weather to the Pacific Northwest, it brings drier than normal weather to Southern California.

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