Resilient snowpack delays big meltoff

Jobs Peak reflected in the waters of one of the canals south of Muller Lane.

Jobs Peak reflected in the waters of one of the canals south of Muller Lane.

A wet first week of May sent the snow-water equivalent at Ebbetts Pass to a new record for May 6 with 77.6 inches locked in the snowpack.

The reading from the snow telemetry at the pass operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service exceeded both the 1995 and 2017 maximums which have been the record to date.

While a warm, dry April saw some lower elevation sites melt off entirely, the snow water equivalent at Ebbetts Pass at the top of the East Fork of the Carson River actually increased. The site saw a peak of 76.6 on April 8 dropping to 74.4 inches on May 2 before it started climbing again.

A different picture developed on Carson Pass, which is at the top of the West Fork of the Carson River. The snow-water equivalent topped out at 68.3 inches on April 8 and declined to 52 inches on Tuesday, only to bump up .4 inches by Friday.

With essentially no storage on either fork of the Carson River, the snowpack is the sole source of most of its flow.

“The record-breaking snowpack in the Walker and Carson basins is forecast to set all-time runoff volume records this spring,” water officials said on Friday.

According to a report issued on Friday, less than 10-20 percent of the seasonal snowpack above 8,500 feet has melted so far.

Snow surveyors said there is more than 20 feet of snow containing 117 inches of water at Leavitt Lake in the Walker River basin, which feeds Topaz Lake, that could persist until late July.

“The Walker basin still has more snow on May 1 than the maximum snow water measured in 2017,” according to hydrologists.

Managers of Topaz Lake have been keeping it low in anticipation of the snowpack melt-off.

Since Dec. 1, Lake Tahoe has risen more than a yard, adding nearly 578 million gallons. On Thursday, the Lake at Tahoe City was at 6,226.03 feet and the melt-off is just getting started.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted its final trek to Philips Station for the season on Monday, recording nearly 5 feet of snow, with 241 percent of average snow-water equivalent for the time of year.

“No matter how you look at the data, only a handful of years in the historical record compared to this year’s results,” said Water Supply Fore-casting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service announced that the official opening of many recreation sites around Lake Tahoe will see delayed opening due to the past winter.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency said it is delaying permitting dirt work in some places due to conditions.

Despite two issued flood watches during April, including one where the East Fork at Horseshoe Bend was forecast to reach 14.8 feet, exceeding the minor flood stage of, the river crested at 13.21 feet just after midnight on Monday and was down to 12.8 feet on Friday.

Afternoon showers and snow levels below 7,200 feet will continue to add to the already record snowpack in the mountains through today.

The sun returns on Sunday and Monday, but showers are back in the forecast starting Tuesday.


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