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Tahoe Nugget #224:

Tahoe Winter Discovery
February 19, 2012

Nugget #224 Clark Nutcracker
A Clark's Nutcracker enjoying a treat of wild birdseed near the Mt. Rose Meadows at 9,000 feet in elevation. This attractive songbird is specialized for feeding on large pine seeds and is hardy enough to survive severe High Sierra winters. Donner Party member Patrick Breen kept a diary of their plight during the harsh winter of 1847. After observing the deep drifts that trapped them all, he wrote "…no living thing without wings can get about."

Slope conditions at Tahoe resorts have improved markedly over the past week or so after two cold storms blessed the ski areas with up to two feet of fresh powder. Even though it wasn't nearly enough to open all potential terrain, it was a much needed boost to this winter's meager snowfall accumulation.

Nugget #224 Hoarfrost Face  BW
Given proper temperature and humidity conditions, fresh snow will slowly develop flaky hoarfrost on its surface and take on the look of a spun fiber blanket draped over trees, branches and bushes. 
Nugget #224 Cartoon People  Ice_edited-1
Varied ice patterns based on a combination of air and water density. These figures found in a shallow puddle on a North Tahoe beach reminded me of cartoon characters going about their business.  

Few will believe me but skiing has been pretty good despite a winter season that is the fifth driest in the past 60 years, and currently running in the lower 20 percent ranking of record. Hydrologists are lumping 2012 in with the severe two-year drought in the mid 1970s, and even akin to 1991, a super dry winter that was only saved by the so-called "Miracle March" that produced three times normal snowfall. Despite the lack of snow, hi-tech snowmaking systems and extensive grooming at the resorts are producing a surprisingly enjoyable skiing/boarding experience.

Nugget #224 Plant Shadow
A pinedrop plant stands tall while the snow piles up around it. These non-photosynthetic plants were once thought to be saprophytic that survived on nutrients from decaying organic matter in the soil, similar to common mushrooms. Today we know that they get their organic nutrients via microscopic soil fungi from nearby forest trees. The pinedrop exhibits a reddish maroon color during the summer growing season with a soft, but sticky pliable texture. After the seeds are released, the plant turns brown and then becomes rigid.

As a weather historian, I often focus on the muscular side of winter, the burly snow berms or homes buried in drifts, but there is another face to this season. Downhillers at the resorts rarely get a glimpse of the more subtle aspects of winter, but back-country skiers and snowshoers know what I'm talking about. You've got to SLOW DOWN if you want to savor some of the more discrete joys of a Tahoe winter.

Nugget #224 Rock Emergence  Prosser
After a significant rain event in Dec. 2005, engineers released water from Prosser Reservoir. This is what happened as the surface ice settled down over rocks lying on the reservoir bottom. The ice make loud snap, crackle, and pop sounds during the process.
Nugget #224 Snow Track Egyptians  BW
For some reason this pattern reminded me of ancient turbaned Egyptians paying homage to a deity or their Pharaoh. It's actually a close-up of a tread track from an over-snow vehicle on Mt. Rose.

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