Sierra Snowpack Brings Disappointing Results, 12% of Historic Average

Skiiers, snowboarders - and state water managers - have reasons to be thankful, but don't have reason to fully rejoice.

After long bouts of mostly powderless days, it's finally snowing in Tahoe. White powder blanketed the area early Thursday, leaving trees and benches covered in snow. Still, when the second snowpack survey was taken by the Department of Water Resources in the Sierra, the snow core was barely a foot deep, when the normal reading would be anywhere from 30 to 56 inches deep. The state Data Exchange Center said the average snow water equivalent is about two inches, which is 12 percent of normal for this year. The snow is what the state depends on to melt into streams and reservoirs, to provide a third of the water California's cities and farms use.

“This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year,”  water resources director Mark Cowin said in a statement.  “Now more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work.”

Before Thursday's reading, the lowest snowpack water content readings for this time of year
were 21 percent of average for the date in 1991 and 1963, 22 percent in 1976, 25 percent in 1977 and 35 percent in 2012, the first year of the drought now pushing its way into a third consecutive year.  These statewide records go back to 1960.

Still, it's better than nothing. The powdery white stuff was the first significant snowfall in two months in the area, and Tahoe was blanketed in the much-needed snow on Thursday. A winter storm warning was issued through Friday at 4 p.m.

Thursday's snow reading followed on the heels of the season's first survey taken on Jan. 10 , which confirmed the fears of state water managers, who warned of drought conditions in the coming year unless the state receives significantly more rain and snow.

Surveyors found mostly bare ground when they tried to measure the snowpack near South Lake Tahoe. Manual and electronic readings showed the water content in the statewide snowpack at just 20 percent of average for this time of year. This year's reading and the one in January 2012 are the lowest on record.

At this rate, the state estimates it will be able to deliver just 5 percent of the water requested by 29 public agencies this year. Those agencies supply more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland.

The calendar year that just ended was one of the driest on record in California, leaving reservoirs at historic lows and leading some cities to implement water restrictions.

Thursday's weather forecast in the Tahoe area shows snow falling in the morning, snow showers in the afternoon and an overall accumulation of about two to four inches by the end of the day, with four to eight inches expected to fall above 7,000 feet.

Don Thompson from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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