January on pace to break record for wettest month

The Carson River's East Fork at Muller Lane Bridge on Jan. 9.

The Carson River's East Fork at Muller Lane Bridge on Jan. 9.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

As the Sierra snowpack approaches record levels and the potential of a near water year’s amount of moisture falling in Carson Valley during January alone, the drought is expected to continue to soften.

“The water year is off to a fantastic start,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Climatologist Jeff Anderson. “A nonstop barrage of storms is forecast well into January.”

As of Jan. 12, Ebbetts Pass at the top of the Carson River’s East Fork left the previous maximum behind with 39.2 inches of water locked in the snowpack. The maximum is 35.9 inches, and is running 268 percent of median, according to snow telemetry.

Carson Pass at the top of the Carson River’s West Fork was at 222 percent of median with 30.2 inches of snow-water equivalent just short of the 30.5-inch maximum for the date.

Monitor Pass, which feeds the Walker River is at 25.2 inches, having left the maximum behind two weeks ago.

“This is welcome news after seeing a similarly tremendous start last winter, only to watch conditions fizzle as blue skies dominated after Jan. 1,” Anderson said in an update issued last week. “The character of storms this winter is different from the cold and snowy pattern we saw in December 2021. It’s still early but this year seems to be on a different trajectory and could possibly be a drought buster.”

The entire Carson River Basin is running at 279 percent of median with 27.1 inches of water in the snowpack.

“As of Jan. 6, snowpacks in the Sierra ... are among the highest ever recorded for this time of year,” hydrologists said. “The Carson Basin has broken through to a new record high.”

The snowpack is the only significant storage upstream from Carson Valley. The river water isn’t treated and is only used for irrigation, though infiltration aids the aquifer, which is where Valley resident get their drinking water.

In dry years, when the river doesn’t provide sufficient irrigation water, ranchers can pump water from the aquifer to water their fields. Those supplemental rights account for about half of the roughly 100,000 acre feet allocated to the Valley every year.

As of Friday, Minden weather watcher Stan Kapler has reported 6.89 inches of water has fallen in the Douglas County seat during January. The month is typically one of the wettest of the year, but this January has so far been one of the wettest in 114 years.

The record for wettest January was 1909 when 7.9 inches of precipitation fell in the county seat, just three years after records began being kept. With just an inch more precipitation to go and nearly three weeks for it to fall, it’s possible 2023 will go down in the record books.


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