The start of a new water year in northern Nevada began the same way the last one ended -- dry.
Only 0.12 of an inch of rain fell at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in October, the National Weather Service said. That's about one-fourth normal precipitation for the month.
Lake Tahoe had even less, with a scant 0.02 of an inch reported at Tahoe City, Calif., which normally gets more than 2 inches. At the South Lake Tahoe airport, only a trace of precipitation was reported during the past month.
Long-range forecasts, however, predict a chance of above-normal rain and snow during the heart of the winter.
That offers a glimmer of hope for northern Nevada and the Sierra, where three dry years have brought drought conditions.
"October wasn't great, obviously. It was pretty bad," said Gary Barbato, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Reno.
But Barbato said October isn't typically a big storm producer. There have been 10 totally dry Octobers recorded since 1872, including in 1995-96, which ended with a wet winter, he said. Ten other Octobers produced only trace amounts of precipitation.
Lake Tahoe is expected to drop to its natural rim soon, for the first time since 1994. A drop would cut off the primary source of the Truckee River, which provides most of the water supply for Reno-Sparks.
For the lake to rise significantly this season, a heavy winter likely would be needed, Barbato said.
How wet the winter will be is anyone's guess, but the wild card in the mix is El Ni-o, a warming of the tropical Pacific that can dramatically impact weather patterns across much of the world.
This year's El Ni-o, considered a moderate but solid one, is expected to bring above-average rainfall across much of the South, including to southern Nevada and California, while keeping the Pacific Northwest dry.
Unfortunately, the Reno-Tahoe area remains near the dividing line between areas expected to receive above- or below-normal precipitation, making local forecasts difficult.
"It puts us right on the edge of no man's land -- right at our normal position," said Kelly Redmond of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno.
But recent long-range forecasts from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predict the possibility of above-average precipitation for the area from December through March, the most critical months for building a Sierra snowpack.
"My best guess from what we can see right now is it will be a normal year," Barbato said. "But anything can happen."