March storms boost base | TahoeDailyTribune.com

March storms boost base

Sandra Chereb

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Cheryl Williams, a South Lake Tahoe school teacher, takes advantage of a snow day Tuesday by boarding more than 18 inches of powder at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

A parade of storms that roared into the Sierra and northern Nevada at the beginning of March has left even some die-hard skiers in awe and dramatically increased the area’s snowpack – more than 17 feet at some places.

But as winter transitions into spring, officials also are looking ahead to the possibility of flooding, should the hefty snowpack melt too quickly.

This March is on pace to be one of the best on record when it comes to snow totals, said Rachael Woods, spokeswoman at Alpine Meadows ski resort northwest of Lake Tahoe.

In the past 15 days, the resort received more than 12 feet of snow at its base lodge and more than 17 feet at mid-mountain, bringing season totals to 28 feet and 40 feet, respectively, at those elevations, she said.

That’s an average of more than a foot a day the past two weeks.

The monthly record for March snowfall is 15.6 feet at the base, set in 1991, she said.

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“That year, we called it the miracle March,” Woods said.

With half the month still to go and more storms in the forecast, this March could be another record buster.

Gary Barbato, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said the storms significantly added to the regional snowpack and next year’s precious water supply for western Nevada.

On March 1, the snowpack – or snow water content – in the Tahoe Basin was 96 percent of average, Barbato said. As of Wednesday, it was 114 percent.

Snowpacks in the Truckee, Carson and Walker river basins were equally impressive.

The Truckee went from 88 percent to 116 percent of average; the Carson, 106 percent to 120 percent; and the Walker, 126 percent to 139 percent, according to SNOTEL surveys by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But all that snow on top of ground already saturated by warm storms late last year adds to potential spring flooding.

Current stream-flow forecasts for the same basins predict creeks and rivers will run anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent above average during the spring thaw, the weather service said.

Unless heavy rains speed melting – like the warm, wet storms in December that caused flooding on New Year’s Eve – flooding is not expected to be a problem in the Truckee or Tahoe basins because of upstream storage.

It could be a different story along the Carson and Walker rivers south of Reno, and the Humboldt River in northeastern Nevada, Barbato said.

Though there’s nothing unusual about this year’s snowpack in the Humboldt River basin, the ground remains saturated after flooding last year that raised the water table and eliminated vegetation in the channel, adding to this year’s flood potential.

According to the weather service, much of the Great Basin in northern Nevada and a large swath of Idaho has an above-average risk of flooding this spring.