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Snow packs abundance of moisture

Susan Wood

PHILLIPS – Even without roaring winter weather conditions this week, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is substantial.

During near-blizzard conditions over the mountain passes, the water content of the snowpack was measured for the first time this season west of Echo Summit at 33 percent above average.

Two California Department of Water Resources snow surveyors braved the blustery weather Monday at an elevation of 6,800 feet at the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe Road off Highway 50 West.

“We’re off to a good start,” state snow surveyor and hydrologist Frank Gehrke said of the 16 inches of water in the snowpack. The average is 12.3 inches.

The depth of the snowpack came in at 58.6 inches – a half-foot more than last January.

“If you look at what we had last year at this time, then what we’re seeing is the same,” Gehrke said as snow caked his glasses.

Last year, he and fellow surveyor Dave Hart measured the water content at 131 percent of average.

“It still remains to be seen what the year will look like. Last year we hit a plateau. It didn’t look rosy until we got those April storms,” Gehrke said.

The adequate level of reservoir storage makes the year more promising, along with the pattern of storms bringing a mounting snowpack.

“It doesn’t get any better than this as far as the powder goes,” he said.

The two men – who said they narrowly escaped the budget ax this year – picked up their cross country skis and measuring tape, approaching the results with cautious optimism.

Gehrke raised his eyebrows at the potential for high avalanche hazard this week.

“You can tell by the accumulations. We’ve had 4 to 5 feet in the higher elevations,” he said.

Contact Susan Wood at swood@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 542-8009.