Officials cautiously optimistic about year so far

The dark-blue roof of a pickup parked beside Phillips Station, just barely visible through a layer of fresh snow, foreshadowed a promising outcome for the second state snow survey at the location this year.

Repeatedly plunging a hollow metal tube into the snowpack at 20-foot intervals in a straight line from a set point, surveyors Dave Hart and Frank Gehrke pulled up seven snow samples.

Shortly after each sample was pulled up, it was weighed to determine its water content, part of a larger effort to estimate California's water supplies for the coming year.

Hart and Gehrke calculated the average snow depth at the survey site was 73.1 inches. The snowpack had a water content of 23.6 inches, which is 123 percent of average for this time of year.

The results were a product of a January that has seen about twice as much snow fall than average for the month, Gehrke said.

Surveyors were guardedly optimistic about their findings.

"It's easy to be optimistic," Gehrke said, "but anything can happen."

One or two more big storms likely would be able to keep the state's water reserves at an above-average level, Hart added.

The survey has been conducted at Phillips Station in the same manner from the same starting point for about 40 years, allowing the researchers to follow snowpack trends and make comparisons between years.

At the same time last year, the water content of the snow at the survey location was measured at 7.3 inches, according to the surveyors.

A total of 284 sites along the Sierra Nevada are sampled monthly from January through May to determine the amount of water found in the snowpack.


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