BLUE CANYON (CBS SF) — State water officials donned snowshoes and journeyed into the Sierra Thursday, discovering a snowpack that was 98 percent of what would be expected this time of year.
The report was good news for Californians who struggled through a three-year drought emergency that ended in 2017. At Phillips Station, a large field 30 miles west of Lake Tahoe, the manual survey measured 50 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 18 inches, which is 71 percent of average for this location.
“The snowpack across California is on par with the historical average for this time of year, thanks in no small part to an atmospheric river that brought heavy snowstorms to the Sierra Nevada,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “It’s a start, but the next two or three months will determine what it means for our reservoirs and overall water supply.”
By comparison, on February 1, 2018 measurements at Phillips Station revealed a snow water equivalent of 2.6 inches, only 14 percent of the early-February average, and just 30% percent of average.
Another weather system was poised to dump several feet of new snow in the Sierra by Monday. Forecasters were warning skiers to get an early start on Friday.
The storm system was expected to roar into region early Friday evening with a snow line that will begin at around 6,500 feet but then plunge to lake level overnight.
Winter Storm Watches will be in effect with 15-30 inches possible in the high Sierra and 6-12 inches for the Lake Tahoe Basin.
A potent second storm front was forecasted to batter the Sierra on Super Bowl Sunday.
“As the next storm bears down during the day Sunday, travel conditions will become more hazardous again,” the weather service said. “The worst overall conditions are most likely from late Sunday afternoon through midday Monday.”
“This storm could produce an additional 1-2 feet of snowfall across the Sierra including the Tahoe basin, with locally higher amounts possible. The snow will likely be more powdery in nature, producing periods of whiteout conditions.”
On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer to meet water demands in the summer and fall.
The DWR conducts five snow surveys each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and May – at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe. The manual measurements augment the electronic readings from about 100 snow pillows in the Sierra Nevada that provide a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack.