Is Carson Valley ready for winter weather? |

Is Carson Valley ready for winter weather?

Andy Bourelle

Is the Carson Valley ready for winter? The answer is yes – probably.

“We’re as ready as we’ve ever been,” said Dick Mirgon, communications director for Douglas County Emergency Services.

Concern comes from whether or not the Carson River can handle the amount of water the winter will bring. January’s flood damaged much of the river, and not all of the damage has been repaired.

Mirgon said the section of the river in the lower Ranchos has been repaired and some diversions have been temporarily repaired.

Under normal conditions, he said, the Carson River would be able to handle the water. County Manager Dan Holler agreed.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Holler said. “A lot of major problems have been addressed. Unless we get the same level – or more – of rain and snow melt we did last year, there shouldn’t be any problem. Last year we had all that snow, and rain right on top of it. We hope we don’t have that same combination this year.”

Julian Larrouy, East Fork water master, said there is little the county can do if the weather is like it was in January.

“Certainly, if we have another year like last year, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “You can’t design anything for high waters like that.”

Therefore, the question isn’t necessarily of whether or not the river can handle the water, but how much water will come? No one knows the answer to that question.

Under normal circumstances no one would expect the type of winter Carson Valley had last year to happen two years in a row. But this year is an El Nino year.

An El Nino is a warming of Pacific Ocean water temperatures which can affect weather around the globe in various ways. It can cause droughts or torrential storms, and it is impossible to predict how it will affect Nevada.

“El Ninos in the past have brought wet winters, warm winters, cold winters and dry winters,” said state climatologist John James. “It may not be a factor at all. El Ninos haven’t always been a factor in years past.”

Typically, El Ninos bring wetter than normal winters to the southern United States and dryer than normal winters to the north.

Rancher Renee Mack said what will happen in Douglas County is unknown because the Carson Valley is “right on the dividing line.”

Roger Lamoni, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Reno, agreed.

“It can go either way, and it has,” Lamoni said. “Do we think it will flood? We don’t know.”

The last El Nino was in the 1994-95 season, and one of the worst ever was in the 1982-83 season. Globally, the 1982-83 El Nino is blamed for more than 1,000 deaths. The Carson Valley had a wetter than normal winter that season, according to Lamoni, but it was cold and there was a large snowpack instead of flooding. But because of the large snowpack, there was an avalanche at Alpine Meadows.

How El Ninos affect the United States is inherently unpredictable, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Even during winter time, El Nino is only one of a number of factors that influence temperate climates,” it says on the NOAA’s world wide web page. “El Nino years, therefore, are not always marked by ‘typical’ El Nino conditions the way they are in parts of the tropics.”

In the United States the 1982-83 El Nino caused more than $2 billion in damage from storms and flooding in the Rocky Mountains, Gulf states and Pacific coast. The same El Nino also saved $500 million in fuel bills in the East because of warm temperatures.

There was also an El Nino the winter of 1976-77, which resulted in a drought in California and one of the century’s coldest winters in the midwest and east.

The 1997 El Nino is supposed to be stronger than normal, according to Dick Mirgon, but its results are as unpredictable as ever.

He said he does expect the winter to be uncommon, but whether it would be dryer or wetter than normal no one knows.

If the Carson River does flood again this year, Mirgon said the county is as prepared as it can be. Like January’s flood, he said there would be 12-48 hours warning, allowing time for evacuation and other emergency action.

From what he heard from residents and other government agencies, Mirgon said Douglas County handled January’s flood as well as possible.

“Douglas County responded better than any other agency in the state,” he said. “I feel we did quite well.”