Lack of snow brings fire concerns
February 16, 2018
With half the snowpack of average, and nowhere near where it was this time last year, lack of snow has public lands and fire officials nervous.
Lake Tahoe snowmobilers are being asked to ride where there is actually snow.
"This winter has been a challenge for all winter recreation users," said Tahoe Sierra Snowmobiling Club president, Greg McKay. "Snowmobilers should take extra care to minimize resource damage that low snow conditions present when they recreate and should follow Forest Service guidance."
Snow is in the forecast for Washington's Birthday, but accumulations are expected to be light, with even the high Sierra only forecast to see around 4 inches.
Snowmobile operators should avoid bare dirt and patchy snow and should not ride across streams or over small trees or brush, according to the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Operating snowmobiles on too little snow creates ruts in the soil and crushes vegetation.
At least there are places at Lake Tahoe where the snow is deep enough to ride a snowmobile.
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The Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area closed on Tuesday because the snow pack dropped below 2 feet in depth.
According to Natural Resource Conservation Service snow telemetry shows that Heavenly Valley had 23 inches on Feb. 16. Leavitt Meadows in the Bridgeport area showed a snow depth of 1 inch at 7,128 feet.
Last year's heavy precipitation has done more than mark the record books.
"Record precipitation in the winter-spring of 2016-2017 produced a significant grass crop that was reported at 200-300 percent of normal," said Gina McGuire, a meteorologist with the Great Basin Coordination Center. "The warm temperatures and lack of snow at lower elevations this winter has not compacted the grass, keeping it available to burn this year. The increased fine fuel carry over in the grass crop along with drier than normal sagebrush and other fuels will lead to higher fire potential in the coming months."
Since Dec. 1, 2017, approximately 2,400 acres have been burned by 11 wildfires across Nevada on BLM managed lands.
"Although the fires remain under investigation, they were all human caused," said Fire Management Officer Paul Petersen, with the Bureau of Land Management. "During the summer fire season, most people are aware of the fire danger and take steps to reduce the risk of wildfires but they also need to be reminded the danger exists year round."
Nevada has received less than 50 percent of its average precipitation between October 2017 and January 2018. Temperatures were also above normal for the month of January as well. Snowpack across the state is reported to be less than 50 percent of normal.