Sierra storm doubles snowpack, eases drought pain
RENO — Drought worries are far from over, but the weekend storm in the Sierra more than doubled the mountain snowpack and should ensure normal river flows into western Nevada for at least part of the summer, federal water officials say.
“It was a game-changer,” federal water master Chad Blanchard said after experts tallied accumulation from the storm that dumped more than 6 feet of snow in some upper elevations around Lake Tahoe.
The lake itself rose by nearly 5.5 inches for a total of 17.2 billion gallons of new water, he said. That’s 53,000 acre-feet, or enough to cover 83 square miles a foot deep — an area equal to the size of Seattle.
The snowpack in the Truckee River Basin jumped from 16 percent of normal for the date last Friday to 35 percent Monday. Lake Tahoe Basin’s went from 26 percent to 53 percent, the Carson River Basin from 31 percent to 53 percent and the Walker River Basin from 27 percent to 38 percent of normal.
“We’re still extremely dry, still way behind, but it’s a great start to what could hopefully be a turnaround,” Blanchard told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Before the storm, Blanchard feared he would be unable to maintain court-mandated flows out of Lake Tahoe at Tahoe City into the Lower Truckee River, which feeds into a series of reservoirs and irrigation districts downstream. The outlook is much better now, he said.
“We’ll have a normal river for at least part of the summer,” he said.
At Tahoe City, 4.41 inches of rain or melted snow fell over a 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday — the most ever for a storm that didn’t result in a flood, Blanchard said. Over the entire weekend, Tahoe City received 6.3 inches of precipitation.
It was enough to push the amount of precipitation as measured in Tahoe City to more than an inch above average for February, meaning anything else that comes this month could be considered a bonus.
Mount Rose/Ski Tahoe between Reno and Lake Tahoe reported a weekend storm total of 4 feet of fresh snow. Kirkwood Mountain west of Lake Tahoe reported a storm total of nearly 7 feet at the resort’s summit. More important, the liquid water content form the rain and heavy, wet snow was measured at 12 inches, Blanchard said.
“Anything else we get will go to eating away at the deficit we have,” he said. “We’re in a big hole, but at least we’re on our way out.”