Snow packs ton of moisture |

Snow packs ton of moisture

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune Frank Gerhke sinks the measuring stick into the snow Monday at Phillips Station in the first snow survey of 2003. His Department of Water and Power partner Dave Hart get ready to record the data.

PHILLIPS – Even without the roaring winter weather conditions Monday, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is substantial.

During near blizzard conditions over the mountain passes, the water content of the snowpack was measured for the first time this season west of Echo Summit at 33 percent above average – 8 percent more than the statewide recording.

Two California Department of Water Resources snow surveyors braved the blustery weather at an elevation of 6,800 feet at the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe Road off Highway 50.

“We’re off to a good start,” state snow surveyor and hydrologist Frank Gehrke said of the 16 inches worth of water in the snowpack. The average is 12.3 inches.

The depth of the snowpack came in as 58.6 inches – a half-foot more than last January. DWR measures the moisture as an indicator of the water year.

“If you look at what we had last year at this time, then what we’re seeing is the same,” Gehrke said as snow caked his glasses.

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Last year, he and fellow surveyor Dave Hart measured the water content at 131 percent of average.

“It still remains to be seen what the year will look like. Last year we hit a plateau. It didn’t look rosy until we got those April storms,” Gehrke said.

He added the adequate level of reservoir storage makes the year more promising, along with the pattern of storms bringing a mounting snowpack.

“It doesn’t get any better than this as far as the powder goes,” he said.

The two men – who said they narrowly escaped the budget ax this year – picked up their cross country skis and measuring tape, approaching the results with cautious optimism.

Gehrke raised his eyebrows at the notion of a high avalanche hazard Tuesday.

“You can tell by the accumulations. We’ve had 4 to 5 feet in the higher elevations,” he said.

-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at