Sierra snowpack totals fall short of average

RENO — It’s official. As any skier can tell you, the past winter was a bust for snow in the Sierra.

Sunday marked the traditional end to the snow season, and the mountain snowpack is barely half what it should be.

"April 1 is typically your peak snowpack. That’s why this is so dismal," said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Reno.

On Monday, Greenlee conducted the last official snow survey for the winter of 2006-07, near Mount Rose Summit, where the snowpack was 44 percent of where it should be in early April.

"It’s pretty sad, all in all," Greenlee said. "This year is history."

Sticking a sampling rod into the snow, Greenlee measured about 4 1/2 feet. The rod sank 14 feet at the same spot last year.

Water content in the snow at Mount Rose was 19 inches, compared to last year’s 64 inches.

It was the second-lowest measurement at that location since records started in 1981, surpassed only by April 2001.

Across the Sierra, the early April snowpack averaged about 40 percent to 50 percent of normal, Greenlee said. In the Lake Tahoe Basin, it was only 38 percent Monday.

The government uses the snowpack as measured in early April to determine what to expect in the way of runoff in rivers and streams this spring and summer for agricultural needs in Northern California and western Nevada.

Greenlee said natural runoff this year should be about 40 percent of normal.

That means that much of the water used in the Reno-Sparks area this summer won’t be melted snow from this winter. Instead, it will be water stored in Lake Tahoe and Boca Reservoir from the previous two winters, which provided bountiful snowfall and filled all the reservoirs along the Truckee River system.

The skimpy snowpack portends trouble for the fire season, off to an early start with two Reno homes destroyed by quick-moving brush fires in March.

Lack of snow in the mountains means the fire season could be severe in both the upper and lower elevations, said Mike Dondero, fire management officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry.

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