Sierra Snowpack Low In Truckee, Tahoe Basins So Far

Jan 3, 2019

After the first couple of storms of the winter season, much of the Eastern Sierra is at or above the historic median snow totals for this time of year, but areas in the Tahoe and Truckee Basins are trailing behind. KUNR's Bree Zender has more.

At this time last year, the snowpack was dismal for large areas in the mountains. There was a lot of snow in the higher elevations, say above 8,000 feet. Even though this year's snowpack isn't robust, there is some improvement.

Jeff Anderson from the Natural Resources Conservation Service is at a measuring station near the Mt. Rose summit. Anderson said in this particular area, it's well below the historic median.

Jeff Anderson takes measurements near Mt. Rose's Summit. In early January, snow totals measured 30 inches.
Credit Bree Zender

"There's 30 inches of snow on the ground, and that snow contains almost eight inches of water content. So if you'd melt all the snow, you'd be standing in a puddle, eight inches deep," Anderson said.

Other areas, like the Humboldt and Carson Basins, are both hitting right near the median. What's different from recent years, Anderson said, is that the snow coverage is much more spread out throughout the mountain range.

"What this shows is that our lower elevation sites, kind of between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, which is a prime water producing zone, those sites do have snow on the ground," Anderson said, "whereas, we haven't in other years because we haven't had these big warm storms."

A baby tree pokes out from beneath the Sierra snowpack.
Credit Bree Zender

As for area reservoirs, there's still a lot in storage from the 2016-2017 winter season, which brought record-breaking snow and rain totals. The biggest, Lake Tahoe, is currently sitting at just over 60 percent capacity, while it neared 80 percent capacity at this time last year.

Anderson said the service is hoping for additional winter storms to refill the storage, though it's just too soon to tell what it's going to look like for the spring.