Sierra Snow Pack Dwindles Following Skimpy Month

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December's promise of the first hefty Sierra snow pack in five years turned to disappointment in January, as water storage dropped from ample to barely average.

"January 2004 was the third dry January in a row in Nevada. Though December was an incredible snow producer, January did not continue this trend," the National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service said in their monthly report.

"Basins in the central Sierra Nevada saw snowpack decline of 30 percent to 40 percent compared to average during January. The exceptional New Year's Day snowpack values in the Sierra Nevada ... declined to near average conditions just one month later."

While the Lake Tahoe runoff and the Truckee River drainage were at 106 percent and 117 percent of average, respectively, the Carson and Walker river watershed were at 105 percent and 109 percent - a fraction below last year's levels.

Northern Nevada fared better with only small declines in its snowpack. The Upper Humboldt River was at 109 percent of average, the Lower Humboldt at 128 percent and the Owyhee River at 135 percent. A year ago, all were at about two-thirds of normal.

All of the major watersheds were slightly below normal precipitation for the water year which began Oct. 1 except the Lower Humboldt and Owyhee runoff areas, which were normal or slightly above.

As a result, reservoir storage is grim except along the Truckee River, which stands at 90 percent.

Lake Tahoe is at a dismal 12 percent of average.

The Carson River, which runs into Lahontan Reservoir, has 78 percent of storage and the Walker River, which supplies irrigation water for Mason Valley and Yerington, is at 59 percent. The Owyhee has 36 percent of its storage.

The report forecasts summertime streamflows at 79 percent of normal along the Truckee, 78 percent on the Carson, 90 percent for the Walker, just under 80 percent on the Humboldt and 122 percent for the Owyhee.

And forecasters hold out little hope for improvement through late spring.

"February precipitation is expected to be near normal," the report said.

"The long-range outlook for the months of March through May is for warmer than normal temperatures over the entire region, especially in southern Nevada. Precipitation is expected to be near normal."


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