Snow makes early Sierra visit, but don’t grab the skis just yet

A light dusting of snow covers the chair lifts at the top of the hill (8,800 feet) at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort.
A light dusting of snow covers the chair lifts at the top of the hill (8,800 feet) at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort. Sierra-at-Tahoe

Chances are most – if not all – of the snow that’s falling in the high Sierra will melt before winter actually arrives, but try convincing the California ski resorts to dampen their excitement.

As much as 4 inches of snow fell at the highest peaks along the Sierra Nevada overnight Tuesday, with a dusting of snow down to around 7,500 feet elevation.

“It looks like winter already,” said Kevin “Coop” Cooper, a spokesman for Kirkwood and Heavenly ski resorts. “The first snow always gets me pumped.”

Kirkwood got 1 to 2 inches at 7,800 feet, but at 8,000 feet it turned to 3 to 4 inches of snow, Cooper said.

Sierra-At-Tahoe wasn’t expecting to see snow, officials said. But sure enough, a good inch of snow fell near its summit of 8,852 feet.

“It is exciting to get a (little) snow this early,” said Thea Hardy, a spokeswoman for Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Neither resort officials nor weather forecasters believe this snow will last since higher temperatures are on the way.

“This snow is not going to last, but it’s fun to see snow in the mountain,” said Brooke Bingaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“By the end of the week, temperatures will go back to 5 or 6 degrees above average,” Bingaman said. “In the Sierra, the daytime high will be in the upper 60s to upper 70s across the higher elevations.”

September snowfall isn’t that uncommon, Bingaman said. Significant accumulation reaching lower elevations would be uncommon, she said.

Across the pass, Zach Tolby of the National Weather Service in Reno had a similarly ho-hum take on the precipitation.

“It’s just an early season storm it doesn’t have any correlation with the rest of the winter,” said Tolby.

It’s also too early, he said, to offer long term weather predictions.

On occasion September can bring snow by the inches. The region saw 7 inches of snow at Bowman Dam (Nevada County) in 1934. More recently, 4 inches were recorded at Soda Springs on Sept. 22, 2013.

Hardy said she hoped it was an indicator “it will be a nice winter” but she isn’t betting the farm on it.

The storm comes in advance of Sierra-At-Tahoe’s annual “pray for snow” party in which the community squares off in an elimination dodge ball tournament (snowballs usually aren’t plentiful).

Cooper said the preseason flakes offered a beautiful push to ski season. The light snow accents the aspen trees just now turning colors, he said.

Rescue dogs are training to search for skiers trapped under avalanches in the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch