East-West Snow Depth
The west side of the Sierra Nevada acts as trap for winter storms, ringing out the moisture before it can get to the east side. This effect is clearly seen in the chart below, which shows the rate at which average maximum winter snow depth (measured in March) deepens with increasing altitude.
Weather stations located on the west side begin registering measureable snow between 2,500 and 3000 feet elevation. On the east side, measureable snow accumulation doesn't begin until about 4,000 feet and increases more slowly with altitude.
Since these curves must meet at some point, I have interpolated a curve indicating a maximum show depth of about 120 inches between 9,000 and 11,000 ft., after which snow depth begins to decrease rapidly. An "average" high Sierra crest of about 12,500 ft. is assumed.
- Average maximum winter snow depth (map)
- Average annual precipitation in the Sierra Nevada (map)
- Climates of the Sierra Nevada (map)
- Natural vegetation of the Sierra Nevada (map)
Source: Raw U.S. Climatological Data for California, 1966-1996.