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Tahoe Nugget #167

In Like a Lion
March 4, 2009

March came in like a lion, and this one had real teeth. The biggest storm of the season roared in on March 2, and by the time it spun out of here on March 4, the Tahoe Basin was blanketed under 3 to 8 feet of fresh powder.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort reported a storm total in excess of seven feet, with four feet of snow in 24 hours. An impressive total, but not even close to the Sierra record of 67 inches that fell in 24 hours on January 4 & 5, 1982.

Tahoe resorts are now boasting bomber base depths up to 18 feet deep and an epic spring skiing season is virtually guaranteed.

The intense storm caused a multitude of accidents on Interstate 80, including a situation where eight to ten big rigs jack-knifed on the slick roadway. Whiteout conditions with zero visibility closed down the freeway over Donner Pass for most of Tuesday with all westbound traffic being held at Truckee and the California-Nevada Stateline. Tahoe-Truckee schools were closed for two days due to heavy snow.

For the most part, the storm was merely a temporary inconvenience, but at Squaw Valley USA it turned tragic when a member of their professional ski patrol was killed in an avalanche. Andrew Entin, 41, was doing routine snow safety work on the Headwall section of the mountain when he was caught in a slide. A 16-year veteran of the Squaw Valley ski patrol, Entin had worked that route for the past eight years. It just goes to show that nothing is routine when you're dealing with avalanche control.

Recent headlines have raved about the miraculous recovery of this winter's previously lackluster snowpack. The 2009 season started off late, but heavy snowstorms during Christmas week kept us in the game. However, January was one of the driest on record and the water content in the snowpack plummeted to below 70 percent for the date. February was a great month for skiing and boarding with frequent cold powder storms, but it failed to offset the dry January.

It will take more rain and snow to boost the Sierra snowpack up to normal, but the March lion has put this year's potential water deficit on notice. As much snow as normally falls during the whole month of March fell in the first three days. Enough precipitation landed in Lake Tahoe during the storm to raise the lake four inches, the equivalent of 12 billion gallons of water.

After two below average winters, California reservoirs are still only half full, but the recent storms are beginning to recharge them. Locally, the water content in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe Basin snowpack has jumped from about 73 percent of normal a week ago to nearly 90 percent of average today. That's change we can all believe in.

Photo #1: Cloud formation mimics Donner Peak rock feature.
Photo #2: Storm begins to roll into Donner Lake.
Photo #3: Veteran ski patrolman Drew Entin died in an avalanche at Squaw Valley on March 3.
Photo #4: Donner Pass sign buried under snow. Compare to same sign a few weeks ago in Nugget #164.
Photo #5: Winter has finally arrived in Carnelian Bay. Compare to photo in Nugget #164.
Photo #6: Fresh powder buries the landscape near Donner Summit.
Photo #7: Backcountry skiers get their turns above the railroad tunnels near Donner Pass.

Nugget #167 A Donner Peak Cloud

Nugget #167 B Storm Clouds Blow over the Pass_edited-2

Nugget #167 C Drew Entin

Nugget #167 D Donner Pass Sign Buried

Nugget #167 E Winter is Back in Carnelian Bay

Nugget #167 F Landscape covered in Powder

Nugget #167 G Skiing Below Donner Pass

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