Sierra Snowpack Low at Late Winter - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Sierra Snowpack Low at Late Winter

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It seems the worst drought we've seen in years hasn't improved much, despite the snowfall last week and in early February. We asked U.S. Hydrologist Beau Uriona with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service if he remembered any year as bad as this one. "When you add the reservoir storage as well as the low snowpack, there are very few years on record that look at problematic as this year."

It's said a picture is better than a thousand words. In our case, the video we shot at the Mt. Rose Summit did a lot of talking. Rocks stick out where there are typically mounds of snow in March. What snow is there, is blinding…the ice crystals dazzling under the bright sun like thousands of tiny prisms, but even that number is not enough. For 2014, Uriona says if we don't have one of the biggest March miracles ever, this winter's a write-off: "It's bad on so many different fronts. Ski resorts are having a hard time staying open. It's one thing after another that adds to this being a really bad snow year."

At the SNOTEL measuring site on Mt. Rose, the summertime fences designed to keep wildlife away from the equipment stick out of the snow…I've reported four winters in a row at that site and I have never seen those fences exposed in winter before. The conditions are so untypical, Beau goes to work without his coat.

He uses the same time-tested method that hasn't changed since 1906: the tube in the snow to measure the height…no extensions had to be added to measure this snowpack. He then weighs the snow for water content. The measurements today confirmed that we're on our third dry winter in a row. Even though he's surrounded by new snow, last week's storm was just a drop in a half-full bucket. The snowpack for the Truckee River basin is just a third of where it should be today. He told us, "Right now we're sitting at 48% of normal in the Lake Tahoe area, around 34% in the lower Truckee."

This drought did not happen overnight or over the past year, but over the last three years. Uriona told us, "If we want a surplus this season, we need about 300% of average snow from here on out." It's a tall order…so call this a hope booster, for a few late Sierra slammers before the deep drought worries can be put to bed.

-written by John Potter

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