Snowpack deep, dense with water: Winter storms bolster hopes for summer water reserves |

Snowpack deep, dense with water: Winter storms bolster hopes for summer water reserves

Gregory Crofton

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / California Department of Water Resources Chief Snow Surveyor Frank Gehrke sinks a coring tool deep into the snowpack on Friday at Phillips Station on Echo Summit. A series of snowstorms in late March added to an already healthy Central Sierra snowpack.

ECHO SUMMIT – Warm weather and clear skies prevailed during the first part of March. Snowbanks in town disappeared and it felt like there would be no more snow.

But the weather during the last week and a half of March roared in like a lion. It brought winter storms to South Shore that delivered three times the average amount of water the snowpack receives this time of year.

“We’ll gain a bump in storage, and that’s really what we live on in California,” said Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources. “We gained a lot during March. Last year in March we got virtually nothing.”

Gehrke and fellow surveyor Dave Hart on Friday stood on 7.7 feet of snow just west of Echo Summit that contained 41 percentile points more water than the historic average for March.

“It was just a damn good year,” said Hart, using cross country skis to trek back to his car parked alongside Highway 50 next to Phillips Station, a historic building once part of the pony express.

By comparison, at the end of February the surveyors measured a 7.2 foot snowpack with a water content 34 percentile points above the average for the month. The snowpack at the end of January was 6.4 feet deep and contained 66 percentile points more water than the historic average for the month.

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If the Central Sierra experiences more storms this month that add water to the already bountiful snowpack, “that’s all for the good,” Gehrke said, but typically a rapid melt of the snowpack begins in April and continues through July.

Despite the abundant winter snowfall, the level of Lake Tahoe is only 6 inches above its natural rim, the same place it sat in mid-January.

Earlier in the season a hydrologist for the National Weather Service predicted the lake level will rise 2 to 3 feet once the snowpack really begins to melt. But that process hasn’t taken hold yet, according to Rudy Cruz, a specialist at the weather service.

“Right now the temperature are mild so the runoff is light so the ground is absorbing all of this,” Cruz said. “When we have warmer temperatures, temperatures in the 70s and they stay that way for a long period of time, then we will see that.”

-Tribune staff writer Susan Wood contributed to this report.

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