Snowpack full of water |

Snowpack full of water

Chris Wellhausen/Tahoe TribuneCalifornia Department of Water Resource employees, Frank Gehrke, left, and Dave Hart measure the amount of water in the snowpack during the annual survey.

Even though December’s storms shut down schools and narrowed Lake Tahoe Boulevard to two lanes, the snow depth at 6,800 feet is almost identical to last year’s mark of 53.6 inches.

Last week’s reading of 52.6 inches, the first this winter by officials from the California Department of Water Resources, proved California has a well-above average snowpack at this time.

“It’s a good start,” said engineer associate Frank Gehrke for the department’s Cooperative Snow Survey Program. “I’m pleased we have this snow but it’s not a banner year (yet).”

The 52.6 inches equated to 15.7 inches of water content. It’s 31 percent above the 12 inch average. Coincidentally, the water content is 75 percent of what it was last year.

Overall, the northern Sierra is experiencing a good year with snowpack 96 percent above average. The central Sierra is 50 percent above average while the southern Sierra is above by 40 percent.

“The north has more water content,” said fellow engineer associate Dave Hart. “They’re racking it up.”

Friday morning’s reading took place at the intersection of Highway 50 and the entrance of Sierra-at-Tahoe. Snowshoes were worn by the media while Gehrke and Hart wore skis to take numerous measurements with a long metal tube. The tube, when shoved in the snowpack, measured the depth. It was then weighed to get the water content.

Gehrke was hoping the snowpack, with El Ni-o’s help, will rise with more winter storms to bulk up California’s water supply. But he realized like last year, January and February, known for bringing precipitation, could be duds.

“Just because you had a wet December, doesn’t mean you’ll have a wet January or a dry January,” Gehrke said.

The mountain snowpack allows the state to determine the allocation of water to 29 California water contractors.

The week’s forecast does not bode well for those seeking snow. This week will bring partly cloudy conditions with highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s, said Rudy Cruz, a weather service specialist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

Temperatures will dip a bit starting Wednesday, when the highs will be in the 40s, Cruz said.

“Not much is going on right now,” Cruz said.

— Contact William Ferchland at

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