Dry December stacks odds against wet winter
January 5, 2012
It has been 22 years since there was no moisture in December in Minden. The last time precipitation chalked up a goose egg was in 1989 in what is on average one of the wettest months in Carson Valley.
And it’s not just dry, it’s warm. A 70-degree temperature recorded in Minden on Monday exceeded the record of 69 degrees set in 1964. As of Thursday, it’s been 62 days since the last measureable precipitation in the Valley.
While the weather will get a little cooler over the next few days it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any wetter.
National Weather Service forecaster Edan Lindaman said high pressure is going to continue through the weekend and into next week.
“On Tuesday we’ll have a short wave moving across the area, but with the extended forecast there’s so much disagreement, we can’t say whether there’s a new system coming. Most of the short wave troughs have been dry and we haven’t changed in the overall pattern through January,” she said. “We’re hoping for something at the end of the month, but hoping and what’s actually going to happen are two different things.”
Water Supply Specialist Dan Greenlee of the Natural Resources Conservation Service said the precipitation news hasn’t been good.
He said the last year the Carson Basin’s automated sites have shown no precipitation at all was 1987.
“Right now for the Carson Basin, we’re only at 8 percent of average,” he said. “Essentially there’s been no snow.”
The last time there was this little snow in the mountains was the beginning of the six-year drought that lasted until the big storms of the mid-1990s.
“It was the first year of the big drought,” Greenlee said. “We ended the year at 50 percent of average.”
However, Greenlee said, a Sierra winter can surprise people.
“If we see some major snow storms, anything can and will happen,” he said. “It’s looking pretty bleak. We’ve been right in the bullseye of the dry zone. But I’ve been up here 20 years and I keep looking for that mythical typical winter. But it never comes because it’s always something different.”
Unlike the Truckee or those ranchers below Lahontan reservoir, Carson Valley doesn’t have substantial upstream water storage.
“Carson Valley agriculture has to rely on what comes off the mountains,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of reservoir storage to tide us over.”
Greenlee, a Minden resident, said he’s been countering the drought by watering through the dry spell.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” he said. “I’ve been watering my lawns, shrubs and trees since before Christmas.”
He pointed out that most of the passes across the Sierra are open as testament to the lack of snow.
“They are usually closed this time of year,” he said. “This is way down on the bottom.”
Minden weather watcher Stan Kapler said the last measurable moisture received at his station was on Nov. 4.
There were some sightings of moisture during December.
Residents reported awaking to signs of rain on Dec. 29, but not even a trace registered in Valley rain gauges.
Gardnerville resident Margaret Pross took photos of a light dusting snow in the Pine Nut Mountains on Dec. 19.
There are other years with no precipitation in December, including 1984, 1975, and 1930, according to records kept by the Nevada Climate Office. The average precipitation for the month is an inch.