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Sierra winter second-driest in 130 years

RENO, Nev. – Warm temperatures in March quickly melted an already diminished Sierra snowpack, with Reno experiencing one of its driest winters in history.

Officials are stopping short of declaring a drought but acknowledge one may be inevitable.

April’s arrival generally means the end of the snow season and despite a cooling trend and a chance of snow showers this week, there’s little chance for recovery.



”The hope now is pretty much gone for this year,” said Gary Barbato, hydrologist for the National Weather Service. ”This year was definitely dry.”

Reno received only .15 of an inch of rain in March, 21 percent of normal for the month. The Truckee Meadows received only 1.22 inches since October, 24 percent of normal, for the second-driest season since 1871, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.



Brimming reservoirs along the Truckee River system should ensure sufficient water supplies this summer but dry conditions are already being felt in the Truckee Meadows, said Jim Ross, urban forester for the city of Reno.

”The soil is the driest I’ve seen it in at least 20 years,” Ross said.

But it’s the mountain snowpack that’s most important and the news there is not good.

On Monday, the snowpack for the Truckee River Basin was measured at 41 percent of average; at Lake Tahoe, 37 percent.

Snowpack levels are slightly better to the south, measured Monday at 57 percent of average in the Carson River Basin and 51 percent in the Walker River Basin.

Those areas, however, lack the type of reservoir storage existing along the Truckee River system and water supplies should plummet as the snow melts.

”We’re looking pretty bleak,” said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The snowpack peaked in early March and warm temperatures caused a quick melt-off, said Greenlee, who predicts below-average stream runoff this summer.

”The snow has really started to melt rapidly,” said Kelly Redmond, climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno. ”The snowpack has dropped about 15 percent in the Sierra and the melt is getting under way about three weeks early.”

Last week, northern Nevada basked under clear skies and above normal temperatures that reached the upper 60s and low 70s.

”We’re sort of in a double whammy,” Redmond said. ”We’re not getting anything and we’re losing what we did get rather rapidly.”

A return of winter temperatures this week will slow the melt and some places could pick up some snow, but the changes are too little too late, experts agree.

The situation forced early closures at some Sierra ski resorts, particularly those at lower elevations. Both Diamond Peak and Tahoe-Donner ski resorts closed Sunday.

AP-WS-04-03-01 1139EDT


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