STATELINE, Nev. (CBS/AP) — The water level at Lake Tahoe continues to rise, but a dry February is putting the brakes on the heavy snowpack that was fueling relief earlier this winter from four years of drought on both sides of the Sierra.
Lake Tahoe has risen to within about 9 inches of its natural rim, but that’s still far short of the average this time of year of more than 2 feet above the rim, National Weather Service hydrologist Tim Bardsley said.
Even with temperatures hovering between 5 and 14 degrees hotter than normal in February, snowpack water content has remained close to average thanks to a strong start to winter, the weather service said.
“It’s encouraging to have the last couple months be near average inflow. The bad news is we’re starting so low,” Bardsley said. “It’s going to take quite a lot to bring (Lake Tahoe) near normal levels.”
“This year is not expected to do that,” he told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Sierra snowpack totaled a paltry 5 percent of average last winter — the worst in more than a century of record-keeping.
“We didn’t just break the record, we completely smashed it,” said David Rizzardi, chief water supply forecaster for the California Department of Water Resources.
Little if any water has trickled out of Tahoe into the Truckee River at Tahoe City, California, since the lake dropped below its natural rim in October 2014 for the first time in five years.
Below normal precipitation was reported over most of eastern California and practically all of Nevada from October 2011 through early 2015. Since last May, much of the region has had above normal precipitation, especially in central and eastern Nevada and small parts of western Nevada, where it was 150 percent of average, the National Weather Service said.
As of Thursday, California officials were reporting snow water equivalents between 92 and 96 percent of the year-to-date average for the central and northern Sierra. U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring stations were reporting anywhere from 95 to 123 percent of average for higher elevations in the Tahoe basin.
“The dry February is a big concern. In all likelihood, it takes away the chance of an above average snowpack,” Rizzardi said.
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