Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
We OBecians live in a place where everyone else goes for vacation. The vacation mindset eventually seeps into everyone. The postman can be seen skateboarding to work in the morning. Shorts and flip flops are de rigueur. Seeking yet another perfect sunset at the cliffs is a neighborhood tradition.
Sometimes though, even we who live in paradise must go forth in search of a different adventure. What I didn't know was that the Pineapple Express was headed to Lake Tahoe at the same time I was.
These low pressure systems drift east out of the Pacific, pick up
moist subtropical air, and head straight for California. We are all
drenched here this week because of it.
The dog park has become Dog Pond. There were ducks swimming around on it yesterday. The ground is sodden, the alleyways in the heights of Point Loma are rushing creeks. We are all dodging palm fronds with our cars and moss is growing on the patio.
For Lake Tahoe, it means heavy snow and high winds. Every eight years or so, a Pineapple Express collides with colder air and produces damaging floods and feet of snow. So it was in the Sierras this week. I was there in the winter of 2005 when fourteen feet of snow fell in one week.
As I looked out of the window of a warm cabin that winter, I wondered what it must have been like back in the day for a miner to be caught suddenly in a storm like this. We have Holofill, Gore-tex, Doppler radar, GPS and fire starter to enhance our survival and comfort.
Regardless of these modern conveniences, I ended up in a rather deep snow bank that year. There was six feet of untouched snow on a trail I happened upon, or, er, may I say, slid too far down to go back. The black diamond on the sign was covered with snow, but I didn't need a sign to convince me I was way out of my league. I decided, okay, this is too steep and too deep and I can't even see my hands because the snow is pouring down out of the sky like a waterfall. I'll just walk out, right?
This wet, heavy snow is like quicksand. One does not simply hike to the edge of the ski slope and stump down to the parking lot. Swimming across the top is the only way to make forward progress. The speed of all that thrashing works out to be about a foot an hour. I tried taking off my skis but they were buried. I finally excavated them and threw them out in front of me, where they sunk out of sight.
What is a buried ski mountaineer to do? I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911. Asked them to hook me up to the ski patrol at Homewood. How many other people did the ski patrol have to bail out in the middle of this monster snowstorm? I hoped it was not just I who won the Darwin award that day.
The ski patrol made me put my skis on. Are you serious ? I followed them like a caribou lunging through the drifts, and not 20 yards away was a nice little trail that took us straight down to the bottom. Hard to read the map in whiteout conditions, guys. I could imagine them snickering about me in the break room later.
I skiied at four resorts that year and never actually saw them. I didn't get to see what they looked like this year either. Even though it was dumping snow this time too, at least I could see my skis and I didn't have to swim off the slope. Yes I fell down. And yesss!! I flailed back up to the surface and got out on my own.
The year of the big storm, we took turns digging a snow tunnel to get to the front door of the cabin from the driveway. The snowplow had come by to clear the driveway, and fourteen feet of snow had to go somewhere. With two shovels we found in the garage and some mixing bowls from the kitchen, we proceeded to burrow into the drifts. We got creative.
Our tunnel had a stopover snow cave halfway through, complete
with throne-like snow seats.
We even carved a niche in the wall exactly the size of a six-pack of beer.
The kids decided they would spend the morning jumping off the roof into the snow, since itwas piled up nearly that high in places anyhow. Suggestions that they might be landing on a clothesline or might not be found until spring were highly effective in getting them to find something else to do.
It's not exactly eight years since the last epic snow, but this storm, though warmer, nearly matched it. The winds were so high that a group of skiers were blown out of their lift chair, fortunately landing in a snow drift that left them unharmed.
The locals proceeded unbothered by the relentless precipitation.
No one was hunkered down. They were out shopping.
It just didn't seem as awful as it was portrayed on the Weather Channel. Another wintry day in the Sierras. I suppose they are used to piles of snow in their parking lots the size of small buildings.
This air mass was so warm for the first three days, the roads along the edge of the lake were spared heavy snow accumulation. The rain rinsed all the snow off the trees; the air was spring-ish. Lake Tahoe itself is at 6200 feet, there was rain, then slush and wet snow and more rain. The snow levels fluctuated between 7000 and 8000 feet as the low pressure system began to push through.
It was warm enough to throw on a sweater and sit on the balcony of the motel room. It is a peaceful silent thing, the snow falling steadily and straight down out of a leaden sky. Sierra Cement. Do not expect that you will be able to turn your skis in this. Over the next three days, seven feet or more accumulated in the higher elevations. The snow levels dropped as the storm persisted, moving down to 4000 feet as the colder air predominated.
The reason I know all these details is because my mother kept me updated on the weather twice daily via email. This is the weather I am seeing in person from my balcony Mom! but she has the scoop notwithstanding. Leave now ! she writes. Take supplies ! She has seen the mudslides, floods and blowing snow on the news and is sure I will be washed away. She imagines that I will slide off the road and need to survive in a snowdrift. I check the back of the car as I leave and see that I am well supplied with a half bottle of water and a bear claw from the bakery.
K, I'm good. Where to next ? A snow plow bludgeons through and whaps a giant ball of snow onto the windshield, temporarily blinding us, reminding us that the weather truly does have the upper hand. Now I'm back, and it's soaking here, but good to be home, next to the ocean.