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Weather plays hard to get

November 7, 2013

With Mammoth Mountain opening this weekend, and a healthy dusting already behind us, snow is on the mind. And maybe, just maybe, in the forecast for next week.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” said Alex Hoon, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “The models keep flip-flopping back and forth.”

There is an area of low pressure moving into California early next week, he said, it’s just a matter of how far south it will reach. Low pressure areas are typically associated with inclement weather.

If the low slides into northern California and Oregon, he said, Mammoth will get little to no snow.

But if that low dips to the south, Mammoth could see as much as one to two feet at higher elevations, he said.

“There’s the potential for a pretty good subtropical tap,” Hoon said, which would mean warm, wet conditions and a lot of precipitation. A “tap,” he said, is like a big scoop, gathering moisture from the tropics and ushering it north with the winds.

“But Sunday and Monday we’ll have a much better idea of what will happen for Mammoth,” he said.

Howard Sheckter, Mammoth’s very own amateur weather forecaster, concurs.

Checking the latest model, Sheckter’s voice dropped.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s looking dry.

There’s definitely a pattern change next week. But the storm track may be north of us.”

Sheckter has been following both American and European models, but has found the European model to be more accurate so far this year. This, he said, is likely because Europeans fund their forecasting services more than Americans.

In the Eastern Sierra, Hoon said, “we live in a rainshadow. We have to fight that a lot.”

Living on the leeward side of a mountain range can add a layer of complication to forecasting. The leeward side (as opposed to the windward side) is the side protected from the prevailing winds.

“The special thing about Mammoth,” Hoon said, “is Mammoth Pass. Your rainshadow effect is fairly minimal. That’s why nearby places like Crowley are so much drier.”

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