Potent storm pads Sierra snowpack, but still short | SierraSun.com

Potent storm pads Sierra snowpack, but still short

LAKE TAHOE ” A potent winter storm that dumped up to 6 feet of snow in the Sierra and brought much needed moisture to northern Nevada provided a big boost to the region’s snowpack and made an otherwise bleak water outlook a little less grim.

But water experts said Thursday that after two years of drought and otherwise lackluster moisture so far this year, the area is so far in the hole water-wise it would take twice as much precipitation as normal through the end of March to get back to what’s considered average.

“The snowfall that we received in the first fours days of March exceeded the average snowfall for an entire month,” said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Gary Barbato, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, put it another way.

“It was like, wow,” Barbato said. “Everybody’s really pleased. It’s just amazing.”

The storm moved in Sunday. By the time skies cleared early Wednesday, higher elevations around Lake Tahoe had picked up more than 6 feet of heavy, wet snow.

The punch of the latest storm was more than welcome, considering the winter season that provides most of the water needed to get through hot, dry summer months is almost over.

“Snowpack values went from 70 percent of average on March 1 to a little over 90 percent of average by March 5, a gain of 20 percentage points,” Greenlee said.

“A truly remarkable turn of events any way you want to slice it.”

As of Thursday, the snowpack in the Tahoe Basin was at 91 percent of normal in both snow depth and water content, Barbato said. The Carson, Walker and Truckee river watersheds also were in the 90 percentile range.

In an average year, the Sierra regions reach their peak snowpack around April 1 ” an accumulation of snow in a water season that typically begins in October.

To get to that peak now would take twice the amount of precipitation a normal March brings, experts said.

“Trying to dig yourself out of a hole gets tougher to do the later in the season you get. Let’s hope for a repeat of what we just had … because that is what it would take to finish the year with an average snowpack,” Greenlee said.

Forecasters said there are no major weather events on the immediate horizon.

“There’s nothing huge in the near term,” Barbato said. “Just little dribbles and drabs.”

He said forecasting models show a possible storm series by mid-month, but it’s too early to say what the region might wring out of it. But it’s not too early to hope for a repeat of this week’s dumping.

“That’d be awesome if it just keeps up,” Barbato said.

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