Rain, snow increase Tahoe’s lake level
January 26, 2010
After almost 10 days of rain, snow and everything in between Lake Tahoe’s is flirting with it’s natural rim. Beginning Jan. 20 the lake rose to just above 6223 feet and for the past week has ebbed and flowed, settling at 6223.05 feet Tuesday evening.
However, the lake’s rise is still below the average increase for January, said Chad Blanchard, chief deputy water master.
“It was definitely a good series of storms even though we ended up with much less precipitation than originally predicted,” Blanchard said. “We’ll take it.”
The snow storms also nearly doubled the water content of the snowpack in the northern Sierra Nevada, bringing it to 117 percent of normal.
The snowpack contains about 18 inches of water, said David Rizzardo, snow surveys chief for the California Department of Water Resources. At the beginning of the storm the monitors had shown just 10 inches of water content.
On average, the water content in the snowpack is 107 percent of normal for this time of year throughout the 400-mile long range.
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“That’s a big boost,” he said. “We’ve caught up to the pace. Now we’ve got to maintain it.”
Blanchard echoed the statement, and said that even though the snowpack is just about average for this time of year, it is still 50 percent of the needed snowpack for the season
Three dry years have left Tahoe’s reservoirs low and the ground parched. The snowpack needs to be larger than average by the beginning of April, considered the end of winter and the peak of the snowpack, Blanchard said.
“We’re doing good, but we have a long way to go,” he said. “We would like to do better than average because we won’t gain anything on an average year.”
The rain and sleet that interspersed the heavy snow falls did not affect the lake greatly, Blanchard said.
“If there’s a little bit of rain it absorbs in the snow,” he said. “There was not enough to run through the snow, you would need a lot of rain to melt some snow on the ground.”
The amount of precipitation that did not fall as snow may be the result of higher than average temperatures, said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“The lower the temperatures the more snow you’re going to get,” McGuire said. “The snow amounts are entirely dependent on the snow level, which is totally dependent on the temperature.”
The average temperature for the month of January in South Lake Tahoe is 28.7 degrees, according to records from 1971 to 2000. Temperatures in South Lake Tahoe have averaged at 32.1 degrees this month.
“The temperatures have been above normal for an average January but it’s not such an extreme amount that it would make a huge difference in the current snowfall,” McGuire said.
As for future weather patterns, McGuire said Tahoe may some some blue skies peaking through the grey on Wednesday and Thursday, before another smaller system comes through the area Friday and Saturday.
And El Nino could still be a factor in the upcoming weather patterns.
“The ocean waters are still warmer than normal, so there is still an El Nino occurring and it could still definitely play a factor in our weather for the next couple of months,” McGuire said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.