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Snow survey encouraging

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribuneDave Hart and Frank Gehrke collect snow samples near Sierra-at-Tahoe for a snowpack measurement Thursday.
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PHILLIPS — California water resources officials were encouraged Thursday by this year’s snow survey, despite a drier January.

The American River basin snowpack, taken from the entrance of Sierra-at-Tahoe, measured 59 inches, with water content coming in at 24.1 inches.

This is 126 percent of average, down from the high 172 percent measurement collected more than three weeks ago. Last year was a disappointing 58 percent of average.

“We’re encouraged considering there was no storm activity in January with the exception of those recent storms,” said Frank Gehrke, hydrologist with the California Department of Water Resources. “We’re hoping for a good February.”

A relatively dry January was accentuated by a warming trend that caused a little meltdown, Gehrke said.

“We started to lose snowpack. We need a series of storms to move through this season,” he said.

The hydrologist is using Thursday’s data collection for the resource agency’s water forecast due out Feb. 7.

“This is the first comprehensive look at what we’re looking at in terms of runoff this spring,” Gehrke said.

Water runoff has a direct effect on recreation, hydroelectricity and agriculture. Representatives of these industries were dismayed and concerned last year about the level of precipitation produced. Snowpack was 37 percent of average, prompting observers to use the “D” word last summer.

A strong El Ni-o — a tropical weather condition predicted by some to start next month — would possibly help with snowpack and water runoff, but there’s no guarantee with the weather, Gehrke said.

“Just because we had a great year early in the season, we’re not out of the woods,” said Jennifer Bright of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Bright, whose organization represents public agencies around the state, observed the water resources officials mark off 50-foot measurements in the snow survey.

Gehrke and Field Activities Coordinator Dave Hart drove a long cylinder into the snow in a meadow where U.S. Highway 50 meets the road leading up to Sierra-At-Tahoe. They take an average of seven measurements.

The cold snow and heat from the sun’s rays beating down on the cylinder presented challenges for conducting the snow survey. The snow froze on the warm cylinder, causing clogs until Hart and Gehrke treated it with Maxiglide, a substance often used on skis.


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