Snow pack shrinks in February

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In a month where the snowpack normally gains 4 inches of water, February netted a paltry 1.5 inches, water officials reported Thursday.

The snow pack shrank from 78 percent to 67 percent of the average during the month, said snow surveyors from the California Department of Water Resources.

"Until we start getting a decent storm track, we'll just continue to lose ground," said Frank Gehrke, snow survey chief for the Department of Water Resources. "March can still be a great month ... whether that materializes this year remains to be seen."

The Department of Water Resources has been measuring snowpack throughout the state since 1930. The first measurements in the state were taken at Donner Summit in 1911, according to Gehrke.

The data collected is used to create a forecast released each spring that influences actions of many water-related businesses and agencies in California. Thursday's crew collected data from the field next to the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area.

"There are big dollar problems if we don't get this right," Gehrke said. "The forecast drives a lot of decisions."

The Department of Water Resources has two more snow surveys scheduled this year for the months of April and May. Surveys involve seven cored samples of snow, each taken about 50 feet apart from each other. The samples are taken with a long metal tube designed to grip snow and measure its water content.

This month, the average depth of the snowpack was 37 inches. The snowpack last month registered at nearly 34 inches.

The only portion of the Sierra Nevada with an above average snowpack today is its northern-most section, which contains a little more than 100 percent of the average. Last year, data collected at the Sierra-at-Tahoe site indicated the snowpack ended up at 103 percent above the average.

It is too early to tell if Nevada and California are experiencing a multi-year drought.

"There's no way to get an answer to that. So much depends on the storage," said Gehrke, who reported that state reservoirs contain an average level of water.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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