Sierra Nevada snow about half of normal |

Sierra Nevada snow about half of normal

Adam Jensen
Keith Swanson, chief of the division of flood management for the California Department of Water Resources, left, and Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys, measure the snowpack near Echo Summit Thursday. Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

A monthly snow survey near Echo Summit got off to an inauspicious start Thursday morning, with surveyors still able to see a hole punched into the snowpack from February’s measurements.

“Most of the snow on the ground is what fell back in December,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey program, during the survey at Phillips Station, near the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort.

The water content of the statewide snowpack was at 52 percent of its April 1 average Thursday. The Phillips Station survey site had just 37 percent of its long-term average water content for this point in the year, according to the data gathered.

January through March 2013 has been the driest January through March on record for much of the Sierra Nevada range, Gehrke said. Records go back to at least the 1920s, he said.

The National Weather Service in Reno expects the driest three-month start to any year on record as measured at Tahoe City. As of Saturday, the North Lake Tahoe community had received just 2.42 inches of precipitation for January through March. Tahoe City averages 16.2 inches of precipitation for the time frame. Up until now, the driest January through March for the community was in 1976, when 3.62 inches of precipitation fell, according to the weather service.

“If Tahoe City receives less than 1.2 inches of precipitation (in March), 2013 will be the driest three month start to a year on record,” according to a graph prepared by the agency.

November and December storms built water in California’s snowpack up to 134 percent of average by the start of January, but high-pressure systems then became extremely persistent and blocked large storms from coming of the Pacific for much of the winter, Gehrke said.

The snow surveyor expected minor storms next month, but wasn’t hopeful for a miracle April.

“What we’ve got right now is what we’re going to get,” Gehrke said.

He said it would take about 22 inches of rain — or approximately 18 feet of snow — in the next month to catch the state up to historic averages. Snowfall of that magnitude would be “way beyond what we’ve ever seen,” Gehrke said.

Rain and snow showers are expected in the Lake Tahoe Basin through the weekend and into Tuesday, according to the Weather Service. Snowfall is expected to be limited.

“Preliminary rainfall amounts of a quarter to a half inch are possible in the Sierra and western Nevada with locally higher amounts,” according to a Thursday special weather statement from the Weather Service. “With the high snow levels only the highest passes will see any slushy snow accumulation.”

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