Sierra Nevada range snowpack is low; drought might await Northern Nevada

A tape measure used in a snow survey streches across bare ground at Phillips Station Thursday. Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

A tape measure used in a snow survey streches across bare ground at Phillips Station Thursday. Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

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January through March were the driest first three months of a year on record for much of the Sierra Nevada range, according to the chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey program.

Records go back to at least the 1920s, Frank Gehrke said.

The National Weather Service in Reno expects the driest three-month start as measured at Tahoe City. As of late March, the North Lake Tahoe community had received just 2.42 inches of precipitation for January through March. Tahoe City averages 16.2 inches of precipitation for that period. Until now, the driest January through March for the community was in 1976, when 3.62 inches of precipitation fell, according to the Weather Service.

November and December storms built water in California’s snowpack up to 134 percent of average by the start of January, but high-pressure systems then became extremely persistent and blocked large storms from coming of the Pacific for much of the winter, Gehrke said.

The snow surveyor expected minor storms this month, but he wasn’t hopeful for a miracle April.

“What we’ve got right now is what we’re going to get,” Gehrke said.

He said it would take about 22 inches of rain — or about 18 feet of snow — this month to catch the state up to historic averages. Snowfall of that magnitude would be “way beyond what we’ve ever seen,” Gehrke said.

The dry conditions could lead to another summer drought in Northern Nevada.

Dan Greenlee, a snow surveyor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that runoff from melting snow this spring and early summer is expected to be less than half of normal on the Truckee River and in the Lake Tahoe Basin. That means Nevada ranchers who struggled through an exceedingly dry summer of 2012 are poised for a repeat performance.

Doug Busselman, executive vice president for the Nevada Farm Bureau, said some projections estimate that Fallon-area ranchers and growers might expect about 70 percent of normal water supplies.

“It doesn’t look real good right now,” Busselman said, adding that he’s hopeful for rain to grow grass for livestock grazing. “I don’t know how many more of these kind of winters and summers we can stand.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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