Sierra snowpack lacks water
RENO (AP) – Winter storms that left feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada just in time for the holidays was good for Lake Tahoe ski resorts, but falls short in water content, officials said.
Hydrologists on Monday conducted their first snow survey of the season in the Sierra.
“It’s good snow for skiing. Not so good for drinking,” said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
January through March are when Northern Nevada receives most of its snow. Unless more storms packing greater moisture content materialize, officials said the region could be facing its fourth drier-than-normal year in row.
Monday’s survey showed the snowpack along the Sierra is between 70 percent to 85 percent of normal for this time of year.
“I’m a little bit disappointed. There’s not a whole lot at all,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee and colleague Ed Blake trudged to the service’s snow survey site near Mount Rose Summit, where they plunged a tube into the snow to measure depth and then weighed it for water content.
The snow at that site was between 3.5 and 4 feet deep. The water content was about 10 inches, or about 56 percent of what it should have been for Jan. 4.
December across the region was cold, and snow lingered even in the valleys around Reno and Carson City.
The problem, Greenlee said, is that this season’s snow has been rather dry, largely the result of colder temperatures. And roughly the same amount of snow fell in the mountains as in the lower elevations.
A healthy snowpack depends on wet snow, often referred to as “Sierra cement,” layering the mountains at elevations of 8,000 feet and above. Places like the Mount Rose survey site should end the season with 16 to 20 feet of snow to produce needed water, Greenlee said.
So far, the high-elevation snow is more powdery than wet.
“You melt this down and you get a lot less water than what we normally get,” Greenlee said. “It’s early. We’re sitting OK.”