Cast a drift
“There’s a humongous area of low pressure set up in the Gulf of Alaska at the end of October, just spinning storms into the Pacific Northwest,” said Tahoe snow forecaster Bryan Allegretto. “The jet stream is just right on the border of Northern California, so that’s why every other model run it pushes the jet stream down to Tahoe, and it nails us.”
But Allegretto isn’t ready to call it just yet. As of press time, he said, “It’s still 50/50, but it’d be so easy for us to get a couple of good storms at the end of the month.”
This will be Allegretto’s 13th season forecasting Lake Tahoe snowfall. And he’s accurate. Media sources ranging from ski resort PR magazines to the Sacramento Bee quote his analyses of weather models regularly in their storm coverage.
“I’ve had the National Weather Service reach out to me in the past, in Reno, and say, ’Hey, we would love to bring you in. Why don’t you consider coming onboard with us?’” he said. “I say, ’Well, I never finished my degree.’ … They’re like, ’Well, how do you know all of this stuff?’ And I say, ’I read about it.’”
Allegretto said he’s long been a snowboarder and has been fascinated with weather since he was a school child. Initially, he went to school for meteorology but switched majors and earned a degree in business. As an accountant for a company that worked with Tahoe ski resorts, he began writing “snowcasts” in 2006 to aid in marketing and business decisions.
According to Allegretto, while his meteorology classes may have given him an edge, “It doesn’t matter how much training you have in meteorology.”
“You can teach yourself anything,” he said. “You don’t have to go to school. All of the material you’re going to learn in college is available to read.”
Allegretto said he’s gained most of his meteorological knowledge through reading “research papers and … other meteorologists’ columns and blogs”—adding that learning about a specific region’s climate is something any meteorologist, degreed or otherwise, must do before forecasting there.
“If you go to Penn State for meteorology, they’ll teach you the basic … course load of how the atmosphere works,” Allegretto said. “They’re not going to get specifically into microclimates and how to forecast snow at elevations levels for individual ski resorts in Tahoe.”
Learning to forecast Lake Tahoe snow was partially a process of trial and error, Allegretto said, but historical resources can be a big help.
“A lot of my method involves me looking back at data from the [Central Sierra] Snow Lab for the last hundred years and just seeing what kinds of seasons or weather patterns produced what,” he said. “I do a ton of analysis on it, and then say, ’When we saw these conditions, we averaged this much snowfall.”
In 2011, Allegretto and business partner Joel Gratz started Open Snow, a website featuring blogs from snowcasters in mountain resort regions around the nation. He said the goal is to provide reliable snow forecasting sans the media hype he often perceives.
“A lot of media, as you know, is all about big headlines—and we try not to do that,” he said. “I try to do the opposite. I try to say, ’Hey, keep an eye on the end of the month’—without saying that it’s because I’m seeing every other model run shows an onslaught of storms. It’s just not coming through consistently, and it’s beyond 10 days—so it’s not just time to get people excited yet.”