Tahoe lake level rising, snowpack near average

Tahoe's shoreline from near Cave Rock.

Tahoe's shoreline from near Cave Rock.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — While Tahoe’s lake level has been on the rise, experts say it remains a concern — especially given a relatively dry February. But even with temperatures hovering between 5 and 14 degrees above normal for the region, snowpack water content has remained close to average thanks to a strong start to winter.

“(Lake level has) climbed up a decent amount the last couple months,” National Weather Service Reno office senior hydrologist Tim Bardsley said, describing the current level as 0.77 feet below the natural rim. “It’s encouraging to have the last couple months be near average inflow. The bad news is we’re starting so low.”

According to Bardsley, the average lake level for Feb. 1 is typically 2.3 feet above the natural rim.

Still, on Feb. 1, the California Department of Water Resources predicted an 87 percent of average spring runoff into the lake — a welcome change given recent years of low snowfall.

“We really haven’t lost snow on a statewide level,” department snow surveys and water supply forecasting chief David Rizzardo said. He added however, “The dry February is a big concern. In all likelihood, it takes away the chance of an above average snowpack.”

As of Thursday, Feb. 25, the water resource department was 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 SNOTEL monitoring stations were reporting anywhere from 95 to 123 percent of average for higher elevations in the Tahoe Basin.

“The high-level snow just consolidated a lot,” Bardsley explained of the consequences of recent warm temperatures.

When compared to last year’s season total of 5 percent of average snowpack, this remains a substantial improvement.

Rizzardo described the winter of 2014-15 as the “worst by far on record.”

“We didn’t just break the record; we completely smashed it,” he said.

Both 1977 and 2013-14 were the previous lows, with 25 percent of average snowpack.

With the two consecutive record low years, it leaves a large hole to dig out of.

“It’s going to take quite a lot to bring (Lake Tahoe) near normal levels,” Bardsley said. “This year is not expected to do that.”

But even with the dry February, OpenSnow.com forecaster Bryan Allegretto was optimistic for a wet March.

“It’s not concerning,” he said of the high pressure system that’s been keeping precipitation from the region, with the exception of last week’s storm. “A big storm in March and we can definitely catch up. I’ve seen 100 inches (of snow) in a week.”


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