Storm’s punch puts padding on Sierra snowpack |

Storm’s punch puts padding on Sierra snowpack

SANDRA CHEREB, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. – A powerful winter storm that dumped up to 7 feet of snow in the Sierra did wonders for the snowpack that provides water for the thirsty valleys of California and northern Nevada.

”This has really been awesome,” Gary Barbato, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said Tuesday. ”It’s really helped the snowpack, which is where our water supply comes from.”

Only three weeks ago, the overall snowpack in the Sierra registered a dismal 22 percent of normal following the seventh driest December since record keeping began nearly 80 years ago.

What a difference a storm or two can make.

As of Tuesday, the average water content and precipitation levels in the Truckee River and Tahoe basins were roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of normal, Barbato said.

Preliminary data from remote sensors indicate the snowpack in Carson River drainage area made similar gains, while the Walker River region, which stood at a paltry 10 percent of normal earlier this month, jumped to around 55 percent, he said.

”Compared to what we’ve had so far this winter, this has been something,” Barbato said.

Early in the season, a monstrous ridge of high pressure deflected many storms away from the region, leaving the Sierra high and dry.

The first measurable flakes of the season didn’t fly until the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when anywhere from a few inches to 2 feet of snow was reported.

Since then, the snow has been piling up.

Kirkwood ski resort south of Lake Tahoe reported picking up 10 feet of snow in 10 days.

At Boreal near Donner Summit off Interstate 80, more than 7 feet fell since Sunday.

But it’s too early to tell if the storms will keep rolling in and whether the Sierra will register a sixth straight wet winter, unprecedented in recent memory.

”We’re not out of the woods yet,” Barbato said.

If nary a flake falls for the rest of the season, ”We’d end up with a water year of about 40 percent to 50 percent of average,” he said.

”We’ve had five wet years in a row,” Barbato said. ”We have to wait and see what this one will do.”