Sierra snowpack now at 24 percent of normal level
The snowpack in Lake Tahoe’s area of the Sierra Nevada is about 24 percent of its historical average for this time of year, officials said Tuesday.
“That’s pretty much what we expected,” said Dave Hart of the California Department of Water Resources after taking measurements at a benchmark location near Echo Summit Tuesday.
“We’re falling behind pretty significantly on our precipitation,” he added. “We would have to have a lot of really significant storms to get caught up to average. It’s possible, but it’s getting increasingly unlikely.”
It was the first of at least four monthly surveys that will happen this winter.
Typically when taking the measurements, which happens at an elevation of about 6,800 feet, officials need cross country skis to maneuver over the snow. That wasn’t the case Tuesday.
The average depth there was 10.7 inches, with a water content equivalent to about 3 inches. The average water content during January measurements is 12 inches.
Since California started taking measurements more than 30 years ago, there have been nine times that the January snowpack at the Echo Summit location was below 25 percent, said Frank Gehrke, chief of the snow survey division of the Department of Water Resources. After five of those nine, the end-of-winter snowpack turned out to be above average. After four, it was below average.
“It’s almost even,” Gehrke said. “You can go either way at this point in time. We keep saying, ‘It’s too early to tell.’ That’s absolutely true.”
Gehrke said there has never been a time when the ground had no snow during the January survey. A storm during New Year’s weekend kept that trend from ending this year. The meadow where officials take the measurements was virtually barren of snow last week.
At a lower elevation, Oasis Aviation reported 2 inches fell at the Lake Tahoe Airport during that storm. Before that, it had not snowed at Tahoe since Dec. 13. Oasis recorded 7 inches in December, compared to 34 in December 1998 and 20 in December 1997.
Snow was expected to hit Tahoe Tuesday, but by evening none had fallen. Mark Deutschendorf, meteorologist for the National Weather Service Reno office, said there has been a common theme this winter of Pacific storms weakening before making it as far east as Tahoe.
“(This storm system) kind of left us in the dry pocket, which we’ve seen a few times already,” Deutschendorf said.
Another weak system will be moving in on Thursday night or early Friday leaving only a small dusting of snow on the North Lake area.
The system may produce a flurry or two, robbing resorts from the inches of natural snow they need.
“It looks like a dry weekend,” said Mike Pechner of Golden West Meteorology.
A more normal winter weather pattern will move in as early as next week.
“We should see more than just a dusting of snow by Tuesday,” Pechner said.
Mid-month may show a more normal winter pattern, Pechner said.
“There should be plenty of snow for the Martin Luther King and President’s day weekends,” Pechner said.
This December has been the second warmest month falling only behind the warmest December in 1958. This last month has also been one of the driest months ever.
“We have a long way to catch up, but it’s not impossible we won’t end up with a normal snowfall,” Pechner said.
The Department of Water Resources conducts several measurements throughout the Sierra every month during the winter. The water content of the Sierra snowpack is monitored closely, since its runoff is the principal water source for the state.
Closer to Tahoe, however, snow is important to the area ski resorts and the tourism business.
Snowboarding at Sierra-at-Tahoe Tuesday, Bay Area resident Jared Condos said he wished more snow would come.
“It could be better,” he said. “We’re spoiled from the last couple of seasons.”
Greg Deutsch, a skier from Sacramento, had similar feelings.
“It kind of sucks a little bit. This is my third time up (this winter) and the first year I bought a season pass. I’m beginning to wonder if I wasted my money,” he said. “It’s not that bad. You can ski. You can make the best of it, but not everything is open.”
Last year at this time, the Echo Summit location had a 96-percent snowpack. The end-of-season average was 146 percent.
Shannon Darling of the Tahoe World contributed to this story
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The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science on Wednesday announced the release of its latest Tahoe Nature Activity Book.