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Where is all the snow?

January 17, 2012

For Inyo County 2011-12 has been one of the driest winters on record thus far. As of January, Inyo County has had about 2.3 inches of precipitation, leaving the local mountains looking this week as barren as they did in August. Photo by Sterling Schat

Unseasonably warm weather and little moisture this winter has raised some concerns among residents about tourism, fire hazards and possible drought.
Weather forecasters predict rain in Bishop for the coming weekend, but with the warm weather, will the moisture be enough?
According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s snowpack report, the 2011-12 winter has been among the driest on record, with only 2.3 inches of snow in the Mammoth Pass area as of early January.
That number is right in line with the driest year on record, 1976-77.
Currently Mammoth Mountain has a foot-and-a-half to two-foot base of snow. In contrast, at this time last year, the ski area boasted more snow than popular resorts open year-round in the Alps.
This coming week, weather forecasts predict rising temperatures, with a 10 percent chance of rain Thursday and a 60 percent chance of rain Saturday and Sunday.
Despite the chance of rain, temperatures throughout the week range from the high 50s to the high 60s.
Historical precipitation reports for the Eastern Sierra show dry months leading up to November, when the area begins to see rain and snow steadily increase, peaking between April and May.
The wettest year on record with the LADWP, 1982-83, shows just over 30 inches of precipitation in early January, with the peak coming in May at 90 inches.
Similarly, one of the wettest years in recent memory, 1968-69, began as a dry winter before late storms hammered the area, keeping the backcountry covered in snow late into the summer.
Erin Gutierrez, visitor center host for the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said Inyo County is seeing tourists taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather by enjoying local camping and hiking. She said she has spoken with many visitors who are planning to visit or just came from a visit to Death Valley.
In response to the lack of precipitation, CalFire is suspending all burn permits on state-responsibility lands within Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties.
“This is being done because of the continued extreme weather conditions and the acute dryness of the vegetation due to the lack of rain which creates a high potential for wildland fire,” a press release states.
The burn suspension went into effect Friday.
“The continued possibility of strong winds, combined with the dry vegetation across the wildland areas of Southern California and the areas of Inyo and Mono counties increases the potential for fire ignitions,” said CalFire San Bernardino Unit Chief Tim McClelland. “By taking this step, we hope to reduce the accidental fire starts that can threaten life and property within Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties.”
The burn restrictions will remain in place until CalFire officials feel the threat of accidental fires is reduced.

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