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California’s mountains are officially buried in snow

January has been the snowiest month in history at Mammoth Mountain

A ski shop at Sugar Bowl Resort in Lake Tahoe on January 20, 2017. 
Courtesy of Sugar Bowl Resort

Thanks to a series of atmospheric river storms that have pummeled California, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is reaching record-breaking numbers. In early January, parts of California received over 28 inches of rain and up to 17 feet of snow, causing flooding, avalanches, and a major shift in the California drought monitor map.

More storms followed, and in the most recent weather cycle Mammoth Mountain picked up another 4.5 feet of snow. Altogether, more snow has fallen so far in January 2017 than in any other month on record at Mammoth Mountain, the resort says. The previous record was 209 inches in December 2010, but Mammoth recorded 241 inches this month as of Monday.

In Lake Tahoe, the meteorologists at Open Snow say that 237 inches have fallen this month alone. That beats a 1973 record of 159 inches of snow that fell in January of that year. In total, the Lake Tahoe snowpack at 7,000 feet has received 80 percent of the seasonal average—and we’re only 43 percent of the way through the ski season. There’s even more snow at higher elevations.

Even Southern California is getting in on the action. At one of the closest ski areas to Los Angeles—Mountain High—the latest storm dropped more than four feet, making it the largest snowfall in five years. All that snow means that Mt. Waterman, a ski area located on the Angeles Crest Highway, will open for the first time this season.

The all-natural snow ski area only operated 11 days last winter, but co-owner Brian Metcalf told the Los Angeles Times that with 4-6 feet of snow now, Mt. Waterman should stay open for at least three to four weeks.

While the snow has been a boon in a state that has suffered a long-lasting drought, resorts in Northern California have struggled to dig out and keep lifts running during severe storms. Now that the major storms have passed, huge machines are moving snow on Highway 50 to open up more lanes, and throughout Lake Tahoe, neighborhood streets are only wide enough for one car to pass. The snow has also caused avalanches on California State Highway 89 and in South Lake Tahoe, heavy snow collapsed the roof of a liquor store on January 23.

Forecasters say skiers and snowboarders should expect a brief period of sunny skies and dry weather in California’s mountains from now until early next week. But don’t expect the high pressure system to stick around too long; by next Wednesday, another “prolonged snow event” could bring more snow to the Sierra Nevada.