California water resources officials confirmed the expected: the state of the American River Basin's snowpack shows a bountiful start to the season.
After averaging seven samples taken last week from the site at the entrance of Sierra-at-Tahoe, elevation 6,800 feet, the snowpack measured 53.6 inches and water content was 20.7 inches. That's 172 percent of normal.
In comparison, last January's water content came in at 6.3 inches -- 53 percent of average.
"It's a significant change from last year. The last time we had this kind of start was in 1993," hydrologist Frank Gehrke said. "The real key is going to be how we finish."
A decade before, January's water content was measured at 22.6 inches -- 188 percent of average. The year was characterized by a strong El Ni-o, which is a tropical weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.
Gehrke said even the warm Sierra Nevada storms during the last week failed to diminish the snowpack to any significant degree in the higher elevations. But the rain has washed out much of the snow at lower altitudes.
"It takes 10 inches of rain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit to remove 1 inch of water content," he said.
Surrounded by camera crews, Gehrke stepped off 50-foot measurements and drove a long cylinder into the snow in a meadow where U.S. Highway 50 meets the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe. The sampling tool was developed by Tahoe City resident James Church.
The snowpack level and precipitation rates thus far have all but ended the chance of a drought.
Officials at ski resorts around the basin have expressed joy at the deep snowbase depths, some measuring 10 to 12 feet at the top.
Farmers and power plants have also been watching the snow year, many fearing another poor snowpack season could mean less water next summer.
The state water resources crew will return in February to take measurements again.
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