Series of storms piles Sierra snowpack above normal |

Series of storms piles Sierra snowpack above normal

Photo by Dan Burkhart /Placerville Mountain Democrat Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, conducts a survey at Phillips Station on Wednesday.

SACRAMENTO (AP) – The series of storms that flooded California rivers and streams over the long holiday weekend also brought accumulations to well above normal for this time of year in the Sierra Nevada mountains.”It sounds like a lot, but it’s still very early in the season. We still need more cold storms,” Snow Survey Chief Frank Gehrke said Wednesday near Phillips Station along Highway 50 south of Lake Tahoe. In just a few days, 41 inches of snow fell there on what had been mostly bare ground.

The first snow survey of the season found the snowpack at 145 percent of normal statewide after a slow start when much of the early precipitation fell as rain. Lake Tahoe area ski resort operators were dismayed to see their usually heavy Christmas holiday traffic melt away in the slush.Colder temperatures led to the rapid accumulation over New Year’s weekend.The northern Sierra was back to a normal year; the central part of the range was at 148 percent of normal; and the southern Sierra, where elevations are generally higher, was at 195 percent of the typical year’s snowpack. The depths are collected by more than 50 agencies and utilities from remote sensors and human surveyors, and are tabulated by the state Department of Water Resources.

Farmers and water managers – as well as skiers – hope the Sierra continues to get regular storms through early spring that will build a healthy snowpack. The state gets more than a third of its drinking and irrigation water from Sierra snow, which functions as a giant, frozen reservoir along the 400-mile range. Hydroelectric plants rely on the snow melt to produce about a quarter of the state’s power.Last year in early January, more than 12 feet of snow fell over two weeks in the Sierra, the most in nearly a century. With the bulk of winter storms likely still ahead, the snowpack statewide was at 54 percent of the total that would typically fall by April 1.

On the Net:California Department of Water Resources:

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