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More rain, snow needed to top off Tahoe

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunTahoe's lake level is higher than it was this time last year, but more precipitation is needed to stay on track for 2007. Despite rain storms and heavy winds earlier this week, Tahoe City needs 5.2 inches of precipitation " or 5 feet of snow " by New Year's Eve to meet the yearly average.
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The water level at Lake Tahoe is two feet higher than it was this time last year, but experts say more precipitation is needed to keep the lake at its average level through 2007.

“Tahoe’s looking good at this point, but we sure could use more precip,” said Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist with the federal watermaster’s office in Reno. “We’re extremely dry.”

As of Thursday morning, Tahoe’s lake level was 6,224.66 feet, up 2.4 feet from last year. But Tahoe experienced unusual storms and high precipitation around New Year’s Day last year, which helped bring up the water level, Blanchard said.

“It could turn around and we could get pounded,” he said.

Blanchard said water has been released from Tahoe to meet federal water regulation requirements. Boca Reservoir’s water storage is down to the minimum, he said.

The National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska reported Thursday that moisture conditions improved in the Sierra Nevada this week, but season-to-date precipitation and snowpack remained considerably below normal. The center’s drought monitor map showed that Tahoe was “abnormally dry” as of Tuesday.

Blanchard added that Tahoe is only at 43 percent of its average snow pack for this time of year. He said the average recorded precipitation for October through December is 11.5 inches and that the area would need 5.2 inches of precipitation ” or 5 feet of snow ” by New Year’s Eve to reach the average.

Chris Jordan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said no major storms are in store for Tahoe. He said there is a 30 percent chance of rain or snow between Sunday and Monday, with no storms due until late next week.

“It’s not looking too good,” Jordan said. “There’s no promising storms on the horizon.”

Tahoe City received three-quarters of an inch of rain between Tuesday and Wednesday, while Truckee received a little less, Jordan said. There were five to six inches of snow at lake level.

“Usually this is one of our most active time periods ” between Christmas and New Year’s ” and then it slows down,” Jordan said. “It is not unusual to have a couple of weeks of dry, sunny weather.”

The lack of precipitation could be related to global warming, which could affect Tahoe in the future, according to a climate change report released December 2005.

Average temperatures in the Tahoe Basin have risen more than 2 degrees, spring snowmelt into the American River happens a week earlier than in the 1950s, and northern Sierra snowpack is already decreasing, according to studies last year by scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego and the U.S. Geological Survey.

More rain and less snow is falling throughout the West, according to an article in the September 2005 edition of Nature Magazine, a scientific journal.

And Lake Tahoe’s water is almost a whole degree warmer than it was 30 years ago, say UC Davis researchers.

The average temperature in November for the West was 48.2 degrees, 2 degrees warmer than the 1901 to 2000 average, making it the 24th warmest November in 112 years, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

November was also recorded as the 42nd driest month on record, according to NOAA.

Blanchard said although Tahoe is drier than usual, he is not worried yet.

“We’re behind, but it’s nothing insurmountable,” he said. “There’s a lot of winter left.”


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