Snowpack levels “below normal” at onset of 2021

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:20 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - As the new year begins, the snowpack and precipitation levels in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra are “below normal”, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snow survey numbers are updated daily, and can be found here, but as of midnight on January 4th Nevada’s basins were an average of 71% of median, or roughly 30% of where they should be, a number calculated over the trends from the past 30 years.

For example, SNOTEL (Snow Telemetry) on Mount Rose reported 36 inches of depth, just 63% of median. There’s normally around 55-60 inches of snow on Mount Rose at the start of a year.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been behind average amounts, our water supply is set up to handle that,” said Jeff Anderson, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “But as the second year of a dry year starts, we get more concerned.”

The “Water Year” runs from October 1st to September 30th, meaning 2021′s started on 10/1/20. 2020′s water year (10/1/19 through 9/30/20) yielded a deficit of 15.7 inches. That number is already 7.2 inches in 2021, a combined deficit of 22.9 inches as of January 4th.

The average yearly precipitation is 44.1 inches.

“We’re already half a water year behind where we should be when you look back at the past 15 months or so,” said Anderson. “It’s critical we get a good winter this year.”

Depending on the basin, stored water is able to make up for the lack of precipitation. But even Lake Tahoe’s levels are lower than normal, filled just 43% of capacity compared to 74% this time last year. The NRCS adds Truckee Basin reservoirs are at 41% of capacity, down from 75% a year ago and the Lahontan Reservoir, serving the Carson Basin, is at 23% of capacity, compared to 51% in 2020.

“Storages and reservoirs are starting to drop,” said Chad Blanchard, the area’s federal water master. “We’re getting a little concerned but we have a lot of winter left and we’re hoping for a turnaround.”

Anderson adds January is typically the stormiest month and the hope is levels on April 1st, when snow levels typically peak, are at or above the median.

Courtesy: Jeff Anderson, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Courtesy: Jeff Anderson, Natural Resources Conservation Service(Jeff Anderson)

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