As weather changes, talk of drought surfaces

Low lake level - waiting for story from Trib for cutline specifics

Low lake level - waiting for story from Trib for cutline specifics

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Heaters and winter jackets went on Monday morning with some area residents waking up to a low of 27 degrees.

"It's going to be below average the rest of the week," said Larry Brown, meteorologist at National Weather Service in Reno.

Carson City area temperatures are expected to drop below freezing tonight and Wednesday -- as low as 24 degrees.

Forecasters say there is a chance for snow showers in higher elevations this afternoon.

But some weather experts say Western Nevada lake and river levels are lower than usual because the area has had lower than average rain and snow -- and warmer temperatures -- for the past two years. A third year with similar conditions would mean the area is in a drought.

In an area that loves to see it snow, talk of an El Ni-o or a La Ni-a climatic conditions can be overheard among people whose work is related to the winter recreation industry this time of year. But what's really going to happen this winter? It depends on which meteorologist is making the prediction.

The Weather Service is forecasting a moderate El Ni-o, a warming of water in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, at South Shore. A strong El Ni-o could ramp up snowstorms, like one did in the winter of 1997, but moderate or weaker El Ni-o may not have a clear impact on the weather.

"There's not that much correlation with heavy winter precipitation," Brown said. "We looked back at the data, some (El Ni-o seasons) are below normal some are above normal."

John James, state climatologist for Nevada, said if he had to bet on the weather this winter, he'd put money on the southern part of the state experiencing a wetter winter and the northern part of the state having a drier one.

"I personally don't put a lot of stock in El Ni-o," James said. "In the mountains, it really isn't forecast."

In other words, expect a typical winter in the Sierra Nevada; the prediction -- nobody really knows.

The phenomenon of El Ni-o has been studied for about 20 years, said Howard Sheckter, an expert on weather of the eastern Sierra Nevada based at Mammoth. It's name, El Ni-o, referring to the Christ child, reflects the season it impacts: Christmas, Sheckter said.

La Ni-a is term that describes the cooling ocean water, the opposite of El Ni-o.

"In light-to-moderate El Ni-os, there is really no bias either way for the central Sierra," Sheckter said. "Out of the last nine episodes of weak to moderate El Ni-o, four were wetter than normal, four were drier than normal and one was normal."


For South Lake Tahoe or Sierra Nevada weather updates:


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