Snow survey packs surprise |

Snow survey packs surprise

Gregory Crofton
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune Dave Hart, right, with the California Department of Water and Power, crunches the numbers from Tuesday's snow survey on Echo Summit. Survey partner Frank Gerhke, left, waits for the results.

ECHO SUMMIT – Yes. This winter has been awesome. Tahoe has gotten a ton of snow.

But wait. Water officials say the storms in February added less water than normal to the snowpack of the Northern Sierra.

“That’s why it’s called data, it doesn’t rely on what people think,” said Dave Hart, a snow surveyor for the Department of Water Resources.

Hart and fellow snow surveyor, Frank Gehrke, on Tuesday took a snow-core pole and measuring tape and cross country skied across a meadow west of Echo Summit to determine how the snowpack changed in February.

The storms of February were “respectable” but didn’t help that much, which makes March a must-storm month as far as the snowpack is concerned, the surveyors said. Last March the sun came out, stayed out and started the snow melting process earlier than normal.

“We need storm activity in March to end up with a decent water year in the Northern Sierra,” Gehrke said. “We haven’t gained what we were hoping to have gained based on the really good start to the water year that we had in October.”

The snowpack overall measured 34 percent above average, down 22 percent from last month. The depth of the snowpack increased about 9 inches to 86.6 inches. Even though the snow was deeper, its water content, the most important statistic, came in below normal, having increased 3 inches instead of 5, the average for February.

“We had a respectable month,” Gehrke said. “Southern California got hammered. We didn’t get that much in Central and Northern California. Right now places farther north, like Oregon and Washington, they’re in really bad shape.”

By summer, the snowpack measured on Echo Summit will have melted and flowed into the Folsom Reservoir, where it will be divvied up and used for things like drinking, bathing and irrigating farmland.

“Folsom still has got a pretty big hole in it because we had no storms past March 1 last year,” Gehrke said.

Scott Tanzi, 49, of South Lake Tahoe, said February may have been a little bit off, but he drives a plow in winter and he can’t remember a time with more consistent business in the 42 years he’s lived at Tahoe.

“(February) was a little weak, but I’m pretty sure December and January made up for that,” Tanzi said. “We’re still getting storms above 7,000 feet and all that has got to melt into the lake somehow.”

Did Tanzi have any predictions for the rest of the season?

“It’s hard to say at Tahoe,” he said. “I’ve seen it snow every month of the year.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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