Sierra snow drought persists

Fog pools in the Valley south of Topaz Ranch Estates on Tuesday morning. Last winter residents of the south county were still digging out from under feet of snow from a Tonopah Low.

Fog pools in the Valley south of Topaz Ranch Estates on Tuesday morning. Last winter residents of the south county were still digging out from under feet of snow from a Tonopah Low.
John Flaherty | Special to The R-C

A snow drought continues to persist in the Sierra Nevada, though last year’s record winter continues to help keep the Silver State off the drought outlook map.

While rain and snow are in the forecast for Wednesday, predicted moisture totals are fairly low for most locations.

“This is not a big storm, but it will bring several inches of snow to the high Sierra with some lighter rain amounts for lower valleys,” said National Weather Service Reno Meteorologist Wendell Hohmann on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, climatologists discussed the drought and climate outlook, so far.

Dan McEvoy of the Desert Research Institute in Reno said last winter’s wet, cold and snowy weather was good for water resources.

“A year ago, nearly the whole state was in drought,” he said. “Now most of the reservoirs across California and Nevada have plenty of water in them and are above average for this time of year.”

He said that while there isn’t much of a high pressure ridge blocking storms, those received this winter have been splitting before arriving in Western Nevada.

“It’s been a pretty warm start to the water year, with temperatures several degrees above average for many places,” he said. “December was exceptionally warm across the Western U.S.”

He said that the first quarter of the water year was the 16th warmest on record.

That is contributing to the snow drought currently underway in the Sierra.

“There is not a lot of snowfall, so far, and less snow at lower elevations,” he said.

McEvoy likened this winter to 2021, which was the second year of the last drought that was ended in 2023.

“It’s hard to climb out of this snow drought, but we can certainly recover,” he said.

A big difference between 2021 and 2024 is that soil moistures are at or above average for most of the Sierra.

As of midnight Monday, Natural Resource Conservation Service snow telemetry indicated Ebbetts Pass at the top of the East Fork of the Carson River was at 11 inches of snow-0water equivalent. The average for Tuesday is 21.2 inches. Jan. 23, 2023, had 45.6 inches.

Carson Pass at the headwaters of the West Fork was at 8.1 inches on Monday, down from the average of 17 inches and the record 36.6 inches from last year.

As of Tuesday morning, the Carson River Basin is running 53 percent of average snow-water equivalent, while the Truckee is at 58 and the Walker River Basin is at 55 percent.

On Monday, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Deputy Director Julie Kalansky said there is a possibility for wetter conditions in February from atmospheric rivers.

“There are some indications more storms are coming,” she said. “We are in for active weather into early February coming into Northern California.”

With no real upstream storage, the Carson River Basin is entirely reliant on the snowpack for its flows. There is no treatment of river water, so most East Fork residents rely on groundwater to drink. However, in dry years some ranchers who don’t receive their full allotment from the river may pump supplemental rights to irrigate.

On paper there are 49,000-acre-feet of supplemental rights available for irrigators, while municipal water rights account for about 38,000 acre feet of ground water.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment