Tahoe snowpack rebounds with March storms, California drought remains a concern
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — After a quiet February, the Tahoe region’s snowpack recovered significantly following early March storms.
“We far exceeded our expected March total,” California Department of Water Resources chief of snow surveys David Rizzardo said. “That was a good turnaround from February.”
Snow and rain totals yielded 14 inches of precipitation in and around the Tahoe Basin, more than double the average for the entire month of March. As a result, South Shore resorts recorded between 50 and 85 inches of snow during the two weeks of storms.
“This last round of storms did an amazing amount of good,” Heavenly and Kirkwood Mountain Resort spokesman Kevin Cooper said. “There are lines people are dropping that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Speaking of the snowpack, National Weather Service Reno office senior hydrologist Tim Bardsley said, “The storms brought us back up. This is a good step in the right direction.”
The Tahoe Basin snowpack water content reached 104 percent of average this week, which Bardsley said is traditionally the peak week for the season.
The big picture for the entire Sierra Nevada, however, remains somewhat less promising. While the northern Sierra average snowpack reached 102 percent after dipping to 90 at the end of February, the southern Sierra remains just 80 percent of its year-to-date average. Statewide, the average reached 93 percent after dipping to 85 percent at the end of February.
“The perception that things have been better is great, but we’re far from solving the overall deficit,” Rizzardo said regarding the California drought.
Both Rizzardo and Bardsley described the year-to-year effects of El Niño patterns as unpredictable.
Early season predictions called for Southern California to receive above average precipitation while Northern California was more of a question mark. Essentially the opposite occurred, leaving southern California relatively dry.
“There’s probably a half a dozen atmospheric parameters that go into it,” Rizzardo explained. “It’s just not that straight of a correlation.”
“No two El Niños are the same,” Bardsley added. “It’s been an unusual one for sure. It did not behave as anticipated.”
Heading into April, both experts said snowpack may decrease slightly but could remain close to average in Tahoe and farther north.
A storm early next week could add some additional snow, but early predictions don’t anticipate as significant of a storm as those from the beginning of the month.
With recent snowfall, forecasters from both the National Weather Service and California Department of Water Resources are predicting a near average spring runoff. Area rivers are seeing close to average flows for the first time in four years.
“It’s promising considering where we’ve been,” Bardsley said.
According to the Truckee Meadow Water Authority, the water level for Lake Tahoe is currently just below its natural rim.
“It’s still significantly lower than it would be this time of year,” Bardsley said. “It’s going to take a few years to get Tahoe back to normal water supply.”
Typically the lake is around 2.5 feet above the rim at this point in the year, Bardsley said.
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