Sierra snow scarce in year’s first snowpack survey |

Sierra snow scarce in year’s first snowpack survey

Tom Lotshaw
Frank Gehrke, chief of California's Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, takes a snow measurement at Phillips Station near Echo Summit on Friday. Snow levels and water content for the region are at about 20 percent of normal.
Tom Lotshaw / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

With much of California facing record dry weather, a-first-of-the-year snow survey at the entrance to Sierra at Tahoe Resort confirmed the obvious on Friday: Snowfall has been scarce.

Frank Gehrke, chief of California’s Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, paced off the snowfield at Phillips Station near Echo Summit and stopped to take measurements with a throng of TV reporters around him.

There was 9.3 inches of snow depth with 2.3 inches of snow water content, about 20 percent of the long-term average.

Two years ago there was basically a bare field this time of year, Gehrke said. Last year there was almost six times as much snow on the ground, though the year still ended as a dry one.

The snow on the ground Friday was left over from a snowstorm that blew through the region about one month ago.

“We’ve got some snow here, but it’s still not a very promising start,” Gehrke said.

The scant snow at Phillips Station was not even enough to cover the whole field. Meanwhile, monitoring stations at lower elevations are reporting the driest years on record, Gehrke said.

“This is not good news for the reservoirs. We need to have above-average snowpack for reservoir recovery.”

Many of the state’s major reservoirs such as Lake Oroville, Shasta Lake and San Luis Reservoir are below their average levels for this time of year.

Statewide, snowpack water content is at about 20 percent of average for this time of year and at about 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement.

April is when the snowpack is normally at its greatest before melting off into streams and reservoirs to provide one-third of the water used by California cities and farms.

According to electronic readings released Friday, water content in the northern mountains is at 11 percent of average for this time of year. Water content is at 21 percent of average in the Central Sierra and 30 percent of average in the Southern Sierra.

A high-pressure system has been deflecting storms up and around California and into Canada, Gehrke said. Those storms have been dropping back down and hitting the Eastern United States particularly hard.

Gehrke is not giving up his hope for snow. It’s still early in the season, but the longer the dry snap continues and the more big storms that miss California, the harder it will be for snowfall totals to catch back up, he said.

Continuing dry weather has prompted the Department of Water Resources to mobilize its drought management team to “offset potentially devastating impacts to citizen health, well-being and our economy.”

“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year. And every Californian can help by making water conservation a daily habit,” Mark Cowin, the director of DWR, said in a news release Friday.

In and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, ski resorts have had snow machines going full-blast to blanket their slopes.

Also on Friday, Lake Tahoe Cruises announced that its sightseeing boats are no longer able to enter Emerald Bay because of drought conditions and historically low water levels on the lake.

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