Tahoe Weather Discussed

NOAA radar image from 2.18.11

As I drove up to Truckee to meet with Bryan Allegretto, I couldn’t conjure up an image of what he would look like or even what kind of personality to expect. We had been emailing for a few days trying to nail down a time to meet and his concise messages didn’t help to paint a picture of what this man was like. All I knew was that a storm was piling up on the western slope and it had just began to spill over into the basin. This was no surprise. I knew that this storm was coming two weeks ago because Tahoe Weather Discussion had called it out.

Tahoe is one of those places (at least in the winter) where nearly everyone becomes an amateur weather forecaster and/ or a meteorology enthusiast. Most everyone has a trusted go-to website that they pull up when they want to know what the weather is going to do. When the word around town is snow, people want to know when and how much. Recently, I have heard more and more people cite tahoeweatherdiscussion.com as their source for reliable info on what’s cooking out in the Pacific and how that is going to effect our backyard peaks. So this season I decided to test out the site for myself and I haven’t been disappointed.

Tahoe Weather Discussion’s simple format provides all the pertinent resources needed to plan a ski vacation, to isolate which resort received the largest storm totals and even the data sources and information to start making one’s own forecasts. The site also offers satellite, radar, precipitation and jetstream images to aid those who are visual learners. However, all this is not unusual for a weather forecasting site.

Three basic, but critical elements set Tahoe Weather Discussion apart from other seemingly similar sites: one, the forecasts are exclusive to Lake Tahoe and its surrounding ski resorts. That makes the reports specific to the terrain that we care about the most. Two, the site is built around a weather blog that has a conversational tone in explaining all the data and research that goes into each forecast. Lastly, and most importantly, the forecasting is accurate (especially in the long term), often beating NOAA and other sites in the calculations of forthcoming storm totals

As Bryan Allegretto walked across the room to introduce himself, it was instantly clear that he isn’t your average weather forecaster. He’s clean cut, young, social and has an easy smile. He’s happy to tell you that he doesn’t have any academic titles after his name and that too much math bothers him. He doesn’t want to be a government scientist who spends his days in a windowless room staring at computer screens, running hourly weather models. Nor does he want to be a corporate actuary attempting to mitigate the financial impacts of weather. Allegretto is a storm lover first and forecasting is simply a necessary tool to put him in the right place at the right time to experience large weather events.

Born in New Jersey, Allegretto took an interest in winter weather around the age of five. His father was responsible for calling in the local snowplow drivers when weather was on the way. It was his father’s need for accurate and reliable information that gave him his first hands on experiences in forecasting. At that time “there was no weather.com, there was no satellite or radar that you could call up on your computer,” says Allegretto. We both laugh at how archaic that sounds. “You had to watch the local news or call the National Weather Service on the phone.”

Despite the difficulty in gathering the data needed to calculate storms, Allegretto describes himself as having been obsessed with snow early on. By the time he was in high school, he was timing storms in the Poconos and Catskills and driving into them with the intention of getting stuck. The result was a legitimate reason for him and his friends to call in to school or work.

Shenanigans aside, Allegretto had a real knack for putting all the information together and getting the snow totals and timing right. It’s no accident that Allegretto now makes his home in Tahoe. The thrill of a really big dump of snow and the love of riding a snowboard on top of it left him only a few choices in North America to pursue his passion. Since his arrival five years ago he has been tracking storms, learning the geography and studying area weather within the context of larger weather patterns.

While explaining his forecasting methods to me he says that too many meteorologists are overly reliant on computer models to interpret the raw data. “Don’t forget old school,” he points out. “You’ve got to combine the two together these days.”

Combining historic weather patterns, teleconnections and modern computer analysis with on the ground experience has resulted in consistently accurate long range weather predictions from Allegretto. With pride he tells me that he likes to think of himself as a long range expert. In fact, back at the beginning of fall he predicted higher than average snow totals in Tahoe and assigned an exact number to it just to test himself. That number is 125%. As I write this, all the Tahoe resorts are at, near or above 100% for the year. Considering that February isn’t over yet, it looks like the local precipitation will match – and possibly exceed – his expectation.

As our conversation was wrapping up I expressed concerns about some theories that this is the last big winter storm of the season. Without hesitation Allegretto says that he can’t find any evidence that the storm door will close in the coming weeks. He points out that we still have a strong winter jetstream, a high pressure that is sitting off the Aleutians in the north Pacific and a trough of low pressure that has been carved out to keep drawing storms right into the west coast. Moreover, there is nothing jamming up the pattern down stream. However, he does point out that in La Nina years the jetstream historically weakens earlier in the season. But for now March still looks good.

As I drove home I thought about water to snow ratios, jetstream patterns, high and low pressures and their impact on Lake Tahoe’s winter community and economy. So much of this town is based on the end result of these natural phenomenon. When I finally got back to South Lake the first flakes were beginning to fall. It was a wonderful feeling to see all the forecasts and projections materialize as predicted. In the morning all the numbers added up and the result was a giddy skier reduced to child-like awe. In my excitement I shoveled just enough snow to get the car out of the driveway and made my way up the pass for the first of many days of powder skiing. From the state of many driveways around town, apparently I wasn’t the only one.

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