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Sierra in need of snow

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun

LAKE TAHOE BASIN ” With below average snowpack conditions across much of the Sierra, and no significant storms on the horizon, winter’s natural reservoirs are in need of being replenished.

As of Friday, Truckee River Basin and Lake Tahoe Basin snowpack levels are 75 and 78 percent of what they should be this time of year, according to the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service daily snowpack report.

And with every day the Sierra go without snow, snowpack levels will continue to lose a couple percentage points a day, said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

But while skiers and snowboarders curse the dwindling snowpack as they dodge bare spots on the slopes, Greenlee worries that below average snowpacks could result in low reservoir levels, which may lead to tight water restrictions this summer.

“After two dry years, many of the state’s reservoirs are severely drawn down and are unable to provide any carry over water to help meet next year’s demands,” according to the Nevada Water Supply Outlook Report Greenlee prepared earlier this month.

“The winter’s snowpack is pretty much mother nature’s reservoir,” Greenlee said in an interview Friday. “It’s what we rely on in the summer time for water supply.”

But despite below average snowpack levels and mild weather in the forecast, the winter is still young. According to Greenlee and other experts, snowpack levels generally do not peak until the first part of April.

“It’s not hopeless at all, yet,” said Gary Barbato, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. “We’ve got 12 weeks to go, but the further we get into the season without snow, the bigger the storms will need to be to get the snowpack back to where it should be.”

For example, the snow water equivalent ” the measurement hydrologists use to determine the amount of water an area of snow would yield if melted ” of the snowpack recorded Friday in Tahoe City was 7.3 inches, 78 percent of what it should be this time of year. If there are no significant snow storms by the first of February, the snowpack would drop to 70 percent. And that’s assuming the snow does not melt.

Forecasters are not fretting, however, as they say we are still in the middle of the heavy precipitation season.

“We’re not really too worried about it,” said Reno National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Hoon. “We’ll probably get into another stormy weather pattern in the next few weeks.”

As for the snowpack levels, Hoon believes a few decent storms could bring most areas of the Sierra back to 100 percent, maybe even more.

Lake and river levels, however, may take a little longer. It would take a heavy storm sustained for a period of four to six days to bring lake levels back to normal, Hoon said.

“Even then I don’t know if one storm would do it,” Hoon added. “A few good years of steady storms and above average snowpacks would likely be the scenario.”


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