Recent winter storm brings Mammoth area to 37 percent of normal snowfall

The first big storm of the winter dropped about four feet of snow on the top of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and a couple of feet of heavy snow between 11,000 and 9,000 feet.

It was enough to open all of the ski area’s runs, and just in time for one of the three biggest weekends of the year—Presidents Day weekend.

The storm also helped to bring the snowpack at Mammoth Pass from about 20 percent of normal to about 37 percent of normal for this time of year (according to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power data).

In terms of inches of water, Mammoth Pass had 11.3 inches of water as of Feb. 10, compared to about 31 inches average for the same date.

Precipitation is measured by weather forecasters in inches of water, not feet of snow, even in high mountain areas, since how much water content is present in each foot of snow can vary so wildly. 

For example, during a very cold storm, more of the precipitation will fall as snow. During a warm, wet storm, like this last one, more of it will fall as rain—something called the snow-to-water ratio.

Other areas of the Sierra fared much better, especially the northern Sierra, where places like Lassen Volcanic National Park registered about 10 inches of precipitation after the warm, wet, sub tropical “atmospheric river” plume of moisture that accompanied the storm.

The southern Sierra, which begins near Bishop, did not have as much precipitation from the storm, but came in at about the same percent of normal for the date, due to a storm last year that bypassed Mammoth and pointed north.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Scott McGuire, the big, high pressure ridge that has plagued the state since the winter began is back, once again deflecting storms away from the state.

However, this “pesky ridge,” as he called it, might begin to break down again next week.

“There is also a large, low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska that will battle with the ridge,” he said.

“We will have to see who comes out on top.”

Mammoth’s amateur weather forecaster Howard Sheckter was more optimistic about the forecast for the next several weeks than he has been all winter, despite that fact that a storm once forecast for the area for Presidents Day weekend looks to be headed north.

This time, Mammoth and the lower elevations of the county should also have some snow, he said.

“The period Monday night through Thursday of next week looks stormy,” he wrote this week. “I like the fact that all the popular global models … are singing the same tune. It still all looks good for a winter storm.

“All in all, this looks like the potential to be a major storm in the high country with much lower snow levels and a good couple of feet of snow. And the town too should [expect] moderate amounts of snowfall.”

In addition, he said, March could be wet.

“I had a peak at the CFS (Climate Forecast System) for the next 45 days. It looks pretty promising for some six to seven feet of snow, now through the end of March.”

The incoming storms are welcome news, but McGuire put it in perspective.

“We need four or five of these kinds of storms to bring us up to normal precipitation,” he said.