Unseasonal Snow Leaves Big Bear Weather Whipsawed

Timing is everything.

The fresh snowfall that would have been a blessing for Big Bear during winter became something of a curse on the second Friday of May, with major spring events postponed or transferred elsewhere.
Some of the damage had already been done by the forecast alone, convincing organizers of pro-cycling's Amgen Tour of California to relocate Friday's stage from Big Bear to snow-free Santa Clarita.
"It's just a big disappointment to work this hard and have mother nature throw us this curveball," said Chris Riddle, marketing vice-president at the Big Bear Mountain Resorts.
As it was, the cold fronts did not live up to their full potential, and the community high in the San Bernardino Mountain received only a couple of inches of snow.
In Big Bear, many Mays go by without any snowfall, but seldom are January and February as parched as this year in California's third year of drought.
It crimped the winter sport season, and hastened the water level drop in Big Bear Lake. Full in 2012, it's now dropped more than 11 feet, according to Mike Stephenson, general manager of the Big Bear Municipal Water District, which manages the lake. Usually the level rises during winter, but this past February, the evaporation rate matched that of a typical June, Stephenson said.
It only added to the community's frustration that the inconvenience of the May precipitation did not provide much offsetting benefit to the lake.
"It canceled the race, it caused some havoc in town, but as far as the lake, it's actually gone down," Stephenson said Friday afternoon as the snowfall was transitioning to gentle sprinkles.
On average, the lake requires 16 million gallons of replenishing runoff every day to stay even with evaporation, according to Stephenson.
"This kind of rain maybe slows the evaporation for a day, maybe washes the dust off trees, but as far as lake level, we're not gaining anything," Stephenson said.
Nevertheless, what moisture did fall was enough to postpone the opening the Snow Summit spring and summer sport season for a second straight Friday.
Now, as fast as the snow has been melting, Snow Summit plans to open Saturday for hiking, mountain biking and scenic tours via chairlifts to the 8,200-foot elevation level.
Though innkeepers were hit with room cancellations after the announcement of the Amgen Tour rerouting, some said the snow forecast also brought new bookings.
"It's a mixed blessing," said Stephen Perez, day manager at the Pine Knot Guest Ranch.  "But with other people coming and staying, it makes up for it."  
There were also Pacific Crest Trail hikers who chose to seek off-trail shelter to ride out the unseasonal weather fronts.
What dazzled some Big Bear parents was the prescience of the Bear Valley School District, as it nears the end of the school year with room in its calendar for snow day class cancellations   never
needed during winter.
For a "Snow Make Up Day," the district chose the date the Amgen tour was scheduled.  
"Now we have a snow day in May, and it is snowing in May," said parent Courtney Bublitz. "We'll take it!"
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