Weather watcher: Prepare for heavy snow
November 23, 2004
South Lake Tahoe may have the sharpest, most eager weather spotter in the nation. Simon Smith says Lake Tahoe is headed for a wet winter.
“I’ve been interested in weather since the El Niño-year of ’82-’83,” Smith said. “I remember watching a news reporter standing on the Pacific Coast Highway with 25-foot breakers saying, ‘Oh, there goes another house into the ocean!'”
As a spotter for the National Weather Service, Smith collects rainfall and snowfall amounts from his yard on Oakland Avenue. In his spare time, he analyzes weather data from years when Lake Tahoe got a lot of snow.
His prediction for this season? “I’m 95 percent sure we’re going to have a heavy winter this year.”
Though not a professional forecaster, Smith’s prediction is unique because it is backed by a great deal of knowledge about weather patterns. He was well on his way to earning a meteorology degree from the University of California at Davis when troubles with calculus stopped him cold.
He dropped out of college in 1997, and moved to Lake Tahoe to work with at-risk youth while he finished work on a psychology degree at Lake Tahoe Community College. But his love of snow and dream of seeing his house buried in 15 feet of it pulled him back into the world of weather.
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“He has intense interest in weather – he just lives and breathes it,” said Tom Cylke, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “Just about every day, he calls and gets a briefing from us.”
Today, Smith, 27, estimates he’ll have a meteorology degree, probably by taking college courses online, within about three years.
In the meantime, he supports himself by working as a teller at US Bank. Before that, he was a concierge.
Smith’s prediction that Lake Tahoe will be buried in snow this winter came from research he did for Cylke. Cylke does not endorse Smith’s prediction, but does think Lake Tahoe will have a decent winter.
“Nothing is guaranteed in long-range forecasting,” Cylke said. “(Smith’s prediction) is based on a small number of statistics, five to 10 cases. To make a strong case, we need about 25 cases.”
Cylke said that if he had to make a prediction for the season, it would be for a slightly wetter-than-normal winter.
Simon Smith’s prediction for a heavy snow year, which includes more than 230 inches falling on South Lake Tahoe, is based on five indicators present during record winters.
• There is a neutral-to-weak El Niño, which means water in the Pacific near the equator is slightly warmer than normal.
• There is low pressure in the area of the Gulf of Alaska.
• There is a northward displacement of the jet stream across the North Atlantic.
• Last summer was dry.
• Since weather in Reno has been recorded, Reno has never had six consecutive dry years. This winter would be its sixth.