March storms bolster snowpack |

March storms bolster snowpack

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Snow covers picnic tables at Sawmill Pond.

PHILLIPS STATION – The month of March has brought a mountain of snow to Lake Tahoe-area ski resorts.

Rachael Woods, spokeswoman for Alpine Meadows, said this month will go down in the record books for being the snowiest March in 35 years.

As of Wednesday, the resort received more than 16 feet of snow this month at its base lodge, and 22.7 feet at mid-mountain, Woods said.

That beats the so-called “Miracle March” of 1991, when the resort picked up 15.6 feet of snow at the base.

“It’s not often you see a mountain’s visual appearance change this drastically, this fast,” Wood said.

“It’s really a different place than it was a month ago,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it’s spring.”

Other Tahoe resorts report similar accumulations, which bodes well for a prolonged spring ski season.

Credit an above average snowpack to this month’s series of consistently strong storms, officials from the California Department of Water Resources said yesterday. March, which traditionally comes “in like a lamb, out like a lion,” was key in changing conditions that just last month were below average.

“To do this much catch-up is quite encouraging,” Frank Gehrke, the department’s chief of snow surveys, said Tuesday. The department’s fourth snow survey of the season pointed to a snowpack at Phillips Station, near Sierra-at-Tahoe resort, that is 114 percent of average.

“March was very good to us,” Gehrke said. “Either you have a good March or a bust. This year we had a good March.”

In fact, there were periods this month that produced three times the typical water content of an average month, Gehrke added.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Gehrke said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that this month was unusual – games of March catch-up have happened before, according to Dave Hart, a department engineer.

Still, it’s fair to attribute a bolstered snowpack to the most recent round of weather.

“Certainly this really helped out a lot,” Hart said while standing in a light snow shower yesterday.

This month’s storms were especially noteworthy because, for the most part, they were evenly distributed, meaning that each portion of the Sierra reaped benefits, according to Gehrke.

Even amid what seemed to be relatively strong storms, the Northern Sierra’s snowpack was previously lagging.

“They (March’s storms) were fairly uniform throughout the Sierra,” Gehrke explained.

The monthly snowpack measurements are held at a variety of locations to help determine spring runoff into reservoirs.

Data from the measurements assist hydrologists in forecasting water supply, and also aid hydroelectric power companies and the recreation industry.

Gehrke said that he’s confident in looking toward the future implications of yesterday’s measurements.

In most cases, Gehrke said of a snowpack’s water content measurements, “If you’re above average April 1, you’re above average for the year.”

A final snow survey will be held in May, Gehrke said.

– Sonya Sorich of the Placerville Mountain Democrat and the Associated Press contributed to this story

Ski resorts pile on the snow

— Kirkwood Mountain Resort

New Snow: 12-18 inches of new snow

Base Depth: 180-291 inches

Season total: 447-673 inches

— Heavenly Mountain Resort

New Snow: 9 inches

New Snow in past seven days: 23 inches

Base depth: 172 inches

— Sierra-at-Tahoe

New snow: 18 inches

Base depth: 230 inches

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