Snowpack recedes after third dry month
The field director of California’s cooperative snow survey didn’t even take his snow boots along Wednesday. Standing in a snow-free meadow near Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort that was buried at the end of February by 3 feet of snow, Dave Hart could only joke about it.
“We neglected it, so it went away,” Hart said about the robust Sierra snowpack that has evaporated at lower elevations after three bone-dry months.
Call it the U-turn winter.
December and January were the wettest two months in the Sierra Nevada this century. Tahoe City received more than 36 inches of precipitation, and the Lake Tahoe Airport was pelted by more than 34 inches of rain and snow. Tahoe City’s two-month total alone exceeded its annual average of 32 inches.
Then someone turned off the spigot.
At South Lake Tahoe’s airport, just 0.25 inches of precipitation fell in April, bringing the total for the last three months to a drought-like 1.27 inches. At somewhat wetter Tahoe City, 3.18 inches of precipitation fell during the same three months, the second driest February-April period since 1.69 inches fell in the same three months of 1988.
Mindy Johnke of Oasis Aviation, who records precipitation at Lake Tahoe Airport for the National Weather Service, said several potential April storms failed to deliver.
“We got a trace here and a trace there, but it didn’t add up to anything,” Johnke said.
Hart, who directs the California snow survey for the Department of Water Resources, said by the end of April the snowpack disappears at the 6,600-foot level about one out of four years.
“It will actually be a wet water year, but from the Yuba River north, there will be a sub-normal snowmelt,” Hart said. Of the three locations his crew visited on the West Slope Wednesday, two were completely clear of snow.
The snowpack is also quickly melting in the Tahoe Basin, according to automated readings at eight locations tracked by the federal Natural Resource Conservation Services. Since the beginning of February, when the snowpack contained more than twice the average water content, the snowpack has shriveled to just two-thirds of the long-term average for the date.
Yet, the precipitation total for the entire season is still 50 percent above average, according to the readings from the automated Snowtel stations.
And any hope that a spring storm might drench the basin at the end of the month appeared to be fading Wednesday, according to meteorologist Dan Samelson of the National Weather Service in Reno.
“There’s only a slight chance of evening showers, and whatever falls may fall as snow,” Samelson said.
After the threat of showers fades today, the skies should clear and temperatures warm into the 60s over the weekend.
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