Sierra Snowpack Is Off To Slow Start
The SNOTEL site at Mount Rose is about 8,800 feet above sea level. It has three feet of snow, which has 11 inches of water content. That is just 84 percent of normal.
After just a few winter storms, the snowpack is below average throughout the state, especially in elevations below 8,000 feet. The SNOTEL site at Mount Rose is about 8,800 feet above sea level. It has three feet of snow, which has 11 inches of water content. That is just 84 percent of normal.
"When you get below 8,000 feet, that's when we only have 25 percent of the normal snowpack," Jeff Anderson, Hydrologist for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service said. "Between say 6,000 and 8,000 feet, that's a really critical elevation band for our water supply for this summer because it represents a lot of land area."
Anderson says this is one of the driest starts for those elevations since record keeping started in 1981.
The Tahoe Basin's snowpack is only 30 percent of normal and the Truckee Basin is at 59 percent. On average, January is the wettest month of the year, so there is still a lot of winter left to accumulate more snow.
"A slow start doesn't mean that it's going to be a dry season for the whole time, but we really need the jet stream to move back over this part of the country and give us the snow that we've been lacking up until this point," Anderson said.
Thanks to last year's record winter, Lake Tahoe is still nearly five feet above its natural rim and just over a foot below its legal limit. The water supply is in good shape but a good snowpack will keep the reservoirs and rivers at consistent levels.
"We're full up to flood control basically in the reservoirs," Chad Blanchard, U.S. District Court Water Master said. "So we would like to see it fall as snow and melt in the spring. That way we can spread it out a little bit and get more use out of it."
Out of 38 years, this year ranks 19th, with 11 inches of snow. Of the 18 years with less snowpack, only three of them had normal or above average levels on April 1. Of the 19 years with more snow, 17 of them ended with normal or above normal snowpack on April 1. December is an important month for snow but a lot could change in the coming months.
"Two years ago, we saw one of the lowest snowpacks on record," Anderson said. "Last year, was one of the biggest snowpacks on record in the Sierra, so who knows how this winter will end up."
Anderson hopes any January storms will be colder than the previous ones, dropping snow in some of the lower elevations. Many of the earlier storms dropped rain instead of snow.
Snow totals aren't much better in eastern Nevada, where the Upper Humboldt is just 44 percent of normal.