Deep February snow not enough |

Deep February snow not enough

by Timothy Bowman

Surveyors from the Department of Water Resources and media representatives found themselves in deep snow Wednesday for the monthly snow survey just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Reporters and cameramen donned snowshoes and waited patiently as Chief of Snow Survey Frank Gehrke and DWR surveyor Dave Hart took their measurements, noting base depth and water content of the snowpack.

While February brought the Sierra base closer to the annual average, it is still only at 65 inches with 18.9 percent water content – 77 percent of where it should be for this time of year. Last month’s reading was 56 percent of normal.

“We’re still quite a bit below our long-term average,” Gehrke said. “We caught up in February but it was by no means a gangbuster.”

Gehrke says this was an unusual winter because the relative cold of this season’s storms has brought unusually high snowpack levels in the lower elevations.

“We have had particularly cold storms, so we are getting higher percentage accumulations at lower elevations,” Gehrke said. “Some of that is going to show in the reservoirs in March and there is room to take it.”

Though there are two snow surveys left this season, the surveyors are guarded about the possibility of reaching the season average for snowpack.

“We’ve got to have average precipitation just to stay at 77 percent,” Hart said. “People are pretty much adjusted to what we are going to get this year. We’re more than halfway through heavy precipitation season. We will not build as much snowpack as in other years.”

The Sierra snow surveys are important to California because it gives an indication of how much water the state will have for drinking and agricultural purposes. It also serves as a preliminary indication of how much hydroelectric power the state will be able to produce.

“(The snowpack reading) helps determine how much water will reach the reservoirs,” Gehrke said. “I think everyone knows if we have a below-average snowpack, it is going to have an effect. The more water you have the more (hydroelectric) power you have.”

While the snowpack is expected to remain below the season average, Gehrke say that it will not lead to a water crisis in the state.

“We had a good February, and that took us out of the doom and gloom category,” Gehrke said.

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