State climatologist says snowpack is OK, but don’t get complacent |

State climatologist says snowpack is OK, but don’t get complacent

by Linda Hiller

State climatologist John James says the precipitation news for our area is good so far – we’re above normal.

“I haven’t got the exact snowpack figures in front of me, but we’re definitely ahead of the game right now,” he said Tuesday, referring to the Lake Tahoe Basin. “Our wettest months are January, February and March, and we’ve still got two more of those months to go, so it looks good.”

One of the things to watch out for in La Nina years, he cautioned, is the phenomenon where one or two big storms hit and then precipitation stops, which could happen, he said.

Recent snowfall in Bakersfield, Calif. – the first in 24 years – is an indication of just how difficult it can be to predict what the weather will do, James said.

“We got missed by that storm and instead it hit Southern California,” he said. “We are ahead of the game, but people shouldn’t get too complacent about it.”

James said from 1872 to 1879, a severe drought hit our area.

“It can always happen again – it will happen again,” he said. “If we have a drought now, with the way we use water, we’d be belly up.”

n Some up, some down. Jane Schmidt, resource specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Tuesday the precipitation for the Carson River Basin is currently around 90 percent of average since October, the beginning of the water year.

The snow water equivalent is 101 percent of average, she said, explaining that different snowfalls can have varying levels of water content.

“You can have 10 feet of snow with the equivalent of 3 inches of water or 10 inches,” she said. “That’s why talking about snow water equivalent is more accurate than talking about snowpack.”

Areas around the Carson Valley are experiencing a range of precipitation and snow water equivalent, Schmidt said.

“The Lake Tahoe Basin is at 106 percent precipitation and 143 percent snow water equivalent right now,” she said. “The Truckee River Basin is also up, but the Walker River Basin is slightly below average – they have 81 percent precipitation and 96 percent snow water equivalent.”

Schmidt said the precipitation is monitored daily by her office through automated weather sites, remote in the Sierra. Access to the figures on the Internet are available, and a survey crew regularly checks the sites by hand to insure accuracy.

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