It’s always a game of inches. This applies to sports, business decisions, and yes, even weather. While we love to talk about grand generalizations and overall weather patterns, it’s really just a matter of a few miles or a couple of degrees that can make or break a snowstorm.

Next week is a perfect example of this, and the forecasts will leave residents of the Tahoe area on the edge of their seats until the computer models can sort out the exact track of the upcoming storms.

Let’s break this down with a comparison between the end of this week to the beginning of next week.

Around Thursday March 8, there was a large ridge of high pressure along the west coast. The image below shows red colors covering this region with black lines that bulge up to the north. You will also notice the little circle of blue over Arizona, which is a weak storm that has broken off from the main west-to-east flow and is just doing its own thing. In other words, it’s gone rogue.

Ridge

Warm and dry weather ruled the west coast during the end of the first full week of March, but this won’t last for long.

Now compare this to the forecast for early next week, Monday March 12. The warm and dry ridge has been replaced with a cool and snowy trough, shown by the blue colors along the west coast with black lines that are dipping down to the south. This signifies a change in the weather pattern in the Pacific Northwest, but the big question remains: Will Tahoe get in on the snowy action?

GlancingBlow

A cooler and snowier pattern will take over the skies along the west coast, but will the big snow make it as far south as Tahoe? That is the question.

So, back to our game of inches. There is little doubt that good snows will return to Washington and Oregon early next week, but will this trough dip down far enough south to bring the same snowy weather to Tahoe, which is located on the California and Nevada border in the northern half of California? Opinions are split. Some models say, “Absolutely!” Other weather computer models say, “Ugh, hold your horses big guy. Maybe some snow, but we’re not quite sure.” And still more models switch their opinions every day, so it’s hard to get a clear reading.

Pacific Northwest, Far West and Rocky Mountains

Here’s what we do know. Starting later this weekend and continuing into next week, multiple storms will deal a glancing blow to the west coast. Instead of hitting the coast directly, they will be on a southwest-to-northeast path and generally target Oregon and Washington. As the moisture moves east of the Cascade Mountains, some areas in northern Idaho and Montana will also see off-and-on snow with good accumulations by week’s end. Areas further south, like Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, will experience beautiful spring-like conditions with sunny warm days and cool nights. And in between sits the ski areas around Lake Tahoe. If our storms in Oregon and Washington can nudge just a bit further south, Tahoe is poised to see a monstrous week of snow that could make up a good chunk of their snow deficit. However, if the storms stay just 50-100 miles further north, then Tahoe will only see small accumulations. 

I know it’s a frustrating game of inches, but it’s the best game possible. If we win, there are massive powder days in Tahoe. And if we don’t, well, we still get to go skiing. And that’s not a bad consolation prize.

Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of opensnow.com and is based in Boulder, Colo.