Snowpack at 115 percent of normal | NevadaAppeal.com

Snowpack at 115 percent of normal

Andy Bourelle

OK, Old Man Winter, where were you two months ago?

Since early January, Lake Tahoe’s snowpack has gone from 24 to 115 percent, surprising even water officials who had been saying all season that major changes could happen.

“I’m a little surprised we’re doing as well as we are,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the snow survey division of the Department of Water Resources. “I thought we could catch up, but I didn’t know we would continue as well as we are.”

At the third of the season’s monthly snow measurements, the Department of Water Resources discovered that the snowpack at a benchmark location near Echo Summit is 115 percent of its historical average. The depth of snow was 89 inches with a water content of 28.3 inches, meaning that is the amount of water there would be if the snow melted. Those numbers are nearly twice last month’s reading: depth, 46 inches; water content, 12.8; and snowpack, 67 percent.

“We’ve caught up really well and are still going strong,” said Jeff Cohen, spokesman for the California department. “These turnarounds are not unusual. The Sierra has spikes like this over the years. Now it seems to be spiking more by month.”

At an elevation of 6,800 feet, officials conduct the monthly measurement by taking a series of samples near Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort.

This winter season started out with hardly any snow at Tahoe. Since early January, however, snowstorms have been common.

The overall Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies most of the water for California in the spring and summer, also is in good shape, Cohen said. North of Tahoe, measurements were 125 percent of normal; farther south in the Sierra, the water content measured 101 percent.

Prior to this season, the northern Sierra had five consecutive wet winters, culminating in the last two years being significantly higher than normal.

Last year at this time, the snowpack at the location near Echo Summit was 162 percent of normal.

If the northern Sierra has another overall wet winter, that will make it six years of consecutive wet winters, a string that is unprecedented in nearly two centuries.

In fact, the only time there were five straight wet winters during the 1900s was 1995 to 1999.

Bill Mork, state climatologist for California, said officials go by runoff rather than snowpack to make the determination of whether the year is considered wet.

It’s too early to tell, Mork said, but he anticipates the winter will end up being a wet one.

“It’s looking hopeful,” Mork said. “That would be six wet years in a row. You have to go back to 1801 to 1806 to find six years in a row.

“I have a feeling we’re going to get there. I really do,” he added. “I just can’t tell you for sure yet.”