Sierra snowpack totals nearly double due to ‘Miracle March’

Jeff Anderson, hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, measures the snowpack on Mt. Rose on Monday.

Jeff Anderson, hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, measures the snowpack on Mt. Rose on Monday.

RENO, Nev. — March 2018 will go down as the fourth largest March snow total since 1980.

Jeff Anderson, hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Nevada bureau, confirmed the snowfall amount Monday from measuring the snowpack near Mt. Rose Summit between Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Monday’s snowpack data was 101 measured inches of snow depth and 34.2 inches of water content, which is 93 percent of the median amount. For the Carson Basin, snowpack on March 1 was at 36 percent of median spring peak amount, and increased by 46 percent to 82 percent median spring peak by April 1.

“So, if you melt down all these inches of snow, you’d be standing in almost 3 feet of water,” Anderson said on a sunny spring day. “We definitely had a miracle March. Just last month, on March 1, the snowpack here at Mt. Rose was only 48 percent of the median peak, so it almost doubled in one month.”

The classic “Miracle March” example for the Sierra occurred in 1991, when snowpack was just 15 percent of the normal peak on March 1, but increased by 70 percent by April 1.

This year had similar numbers to 1991, Anderson said. Regional snowpack averages were 32 percent of the median peak on March 1, but increased to 77 percent by April 1.

The biggest recorded “Miracle March” was in 1995, with a snow water increase of 27.5 inches. That year, according to published reports, there was a 60-70 percent increase.

This year, even with the increases in March, snowpack averages across the Tahoe region and Nevada still slightly below average. But Anderson isn’t worried.

“This means we are going to see a lot more water coming down our rivers and into the lakes and whatnot, and that’s really great news,” he told reporters from the survey site at the Mt. Rose summit rest area. “And not only did the Sierra see a pretty great bump in the snowpack, but also the rest of Nevada did too … it’s good news for all of Nevada.

“The saving grace of this year is the snow from last year, which kept our reservoirs really high. And now we’re in a situation where the reservoirs are going to be great again for this summer.”

Having solid reservoir storage is good news for Northern Nevada, as it causes less reason to worry for future water supply, Anderson said.

“March 1 we were looking at potentially not filling our reservoirs,” added David E. Wathern, chief deputy federal water master for the region. “Coming into this year, we had such high carryover (from the 2016-17 winter), it wasn’t going to take much to fill them.

“But we were at a point, with such dismal runoff expected March 1, now it’s looking like we will fill easily and spill. We’re spilling water out of Lake Tahoe.”

NRCS installs, operates and maintains an extensive, automated network of SNOTEL weather stations to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States. In addition to measuring the snowpack’s water content SNOTEL sites also measure annual precipitation, air temperature, snow depth and soil moisture.

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