Dry January brings little change in February snowpack readings
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The month of January may have been dry with no storms in sight, but the record breaking snowfall in December 2021 and the rain that primed the soil in October has created great conditions for the snowpack this year.
The California Department of Water Resources conducted the second Phillips Station on Tuesday, Feb. 1 with CDWR Manager of the Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Sean de Guzman reporting a snow depth of 48.5 inches with a snow water content of 19 inches.
The data represents 109% of the average snowpack to date and 78% of the April 1 average. Compared to the rest of the state, the location’s snowpack is 92% of the average as of Feb. 1.
The average is measured by April 1 since that is normally the snowpack peak in the Sierra Nevadas.
“We had record rainfall in October during the category five atmospheric river,” said de Guzman. “But that was followed by a dry November. December’s snowfall boosted our snowpack well above average, and in fact, some locations throughout the state have had the snowiest December. However, this past January was one of the driest January’s on record.”
“Our climate is experiencing these volatile shifts from wet to dry, year after year, and even month after month, which makes water resource planning and water management so challenging in a changing climate,” continued de Guzman.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services hosted their own snowpack reading for the month of February at the Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) site at Mt. Rose with Hydrologist Jeff Anderson.
Anderson noted that since the month of January had been so dry, it was basically the same snow on the ground from the previous reading.
As of today, Tuesday, Feb. 8, Mount Rose is at 99% of the date’s median, which is the first day that the mountain site has dropped below 100% of the median level.
Anderson explained that the NRCS has 11 sites in and around the Tahoe basin that are measured monthly by the median amount of snow.
Due to erratic weather patterns, including two heavier winters in 2017 and 2019, with some of the driest conditions to date in 2013, the NRCS measures the snowpack by the median rather than finding the average amount of snow in order to keep data correct over the 30 year timeline.
Although there isn’t any snow on the horizon, Anderson knows how quickly that can change.
“We can rebound really quickly,” said Anderson. “This year, all it takes is a week of atmospheric rivers, a full months worth of snowfall or more, and we could be well above one hundred percent by the end of the season, but it’s definitely going to take getting back into that storm trek.”
In terms of runoff, Anderson said that the rains in Oct. 2021 prepared the soil to let snow runoff head directly to the lake, rather than the water being absorbed by what used to be dry soil.
“So when the snow starts melting, a great percentage of the snow melt is going to make it to the creeks and into the lake,” said Anderson.
The lake is currently above rim level, and it is forecasted that the level could rise by 1.7 feet with the current runoff. But there is still five feet of the lake that can be filled before reaching its legal limit, meaning the lake is far from reaching what it once was.
The next reading of the snowpack will be conducted in March.
For more information, visit nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/water/snowsurvey.
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