Snow piles up in the Sierra
A succession of El Nino-influenced storms has built up a Sierra snowpack that will guarantee summer water supplies, and has captured the attention of the nation’s skiers and snowboarders.
After a slow start, winter weather has pummeled the Sierra Nevada for close to two months. The snowpack in the Tahoe Basin, at three-fourths of normal the first of January, had increased to 156 percent by Tuesday, according to automated Snotel measurements by the federal Natural Resource Conservation Services.
Dave Hart of the California Department of Water Resources said the snowpack in the northern Sierra now stands at 190 percent of average for the date, with slightly smaller amounts in the central and southern portion of the Sierra.
“What’s extreme is at the low elevations we are finding a snowpack,” Hart said.
At the 5,000-foot elevation in the American River basin, for instance, the snowpack is equivalent to 20 inches of precipitation, while 6 to 7 inches would be more typical, he said.
“We are already over our average annual snowpack for April 1, and in some places we have hit double our April 1 average,” Hart said.
With Lake Tahoe rising within a foot of its maximum capacity, the federal watermaster on Monday increased releases into the Truckee River from 402 cubic feet a second to 502 cfs. The additional discharge will create more capacity in the lake to absorb spring runoff.
While weather forecasters predict warmer and drier weather for the next week or so, a few showers today notwithstanding, the latest storm Monday walloped Lake Tahoe Airport with another 13 inches of snowfall. The storm brought the airport’s total for February to 9.65 inches of precipitation, including 67 inches of snowfall. The airport was closed all day, preventing even the arrival of the daily United Parcel Service flight.
At Soda Springs near Donner Summit, the Sierra Snow Lab recorded 155 inches of snow on the ground at the 6,900-foot level, said hydrologist Randall Osterhuber.
“We now have a very substantial snowpack,” Osterhuber said.
Chief beneficiaries of El Nino’s abundant snowfall are Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts, which now boast the deepest snowpack in North America.
Kirkwood Ski Resort, which has recorded the deepest snowpack of North American ski areas the last four years, revised their estimate of current snow depths to an average of 23 feet. Even buried under that much snow, the resort south of Lake Tahoe had an even more impressive snowpack in 1994 of 30 feet, said Tania Magidson, the resort’s communications manager.
“Today, we received our season’s average snowfall of 397 inches,” Magidson said. “People who like powder are getting it in the Tahoe area, but not in the Rockies.”
At Heavenly Ski Resort, the top of the mountain now has a 15-foot snowpack, said John Wagnon, the resort’s vice president of marketing. Now all they need is a little good weather.
“Right now what we need is a month’s worth of clear skies,” Wagnon said. “Business has been pretty strong throughout the lake area. In the international and national destination business, it helps because we get widespread exposure.”
Wagnon said reservations for March and April are up sharply at Heavenly, and could more than make up for business lost on stormy weekends the last month.
“If we get 14 days of clear weather, it will make up for any shortfall in February,” Wagnon said.
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