Wet weather washes western Nevada County; snowpack still short of normal | TheUnion.com

Wet weather washes western Nevada County; snowpack still short of normal

More than an inch of rain soaked western Nevada County overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, with an extended period of more precipitation predicted into next week.

In Grass Valley, 1.22 inches of rain had fallen over a 72-hour stretch by 8 a.m. Thursday, said National Weather Service forecaster Holly Osborne.

"There were some heavier showers and thunderstorms that went through the area," Osborne said. "A lot of the foothills got between an inch to an inch and a quarter of rain.

"We've got another storm coming early Friday morning that will continue into Saturday. And we're expecting another 1 1/2 inches with that in the area."

Consider the drought conditions that have plagued western county, and all of California, the wet weather is welcomed but has yet to make a substantial impact on local water content levels.

As reported by Nevada Irrigation District officials in Thursday's edition of The Union, the local mountain snowpack currently holds 18 percent of average water content.

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Although February's weather has helped the water supply — reporting a measurement of 15 inches at Bowman Reservoir through Feb. 24 — NID is still forging ahead with planning for dry-year water operations.

A California Department of Water Resources snow survey conducted Thursday at Phillips Station near Echo Summit in El Dorado County only confirmed water content is far below the season average.

Fresh storms have helped bring more snow to the Sierra and Echo Summit, resulting in a total of 25.7 inches of snow depth with 8.1 inches of snow water content, which measures at about 33 percent of the long-term average.

That means the region's drought will remain, and it isn't likely to lift any time soon, surveyor Frank Gehrke said.

March snowfall could boost those numbers before the season's end. But even if it did, the amount wouldn't be enough to reach typical season figures, Gehrke said.

"Again, it's just the reflection of the fact that what storms do come through are fairly modest," he said, "and then the blocking high pressure ridge sets back in almost as soon as they've left the state."

On Thursday morning, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Norden reported a new foot of fresh snow at its summit of 8,383 feet in elevation, with 6 inches falling at its 6,883 foot base.

Boreal Mountain Resort, just across the hillsides at Donner Summit near Truckee, reported 15 inches of snow had fallen overnight.

"Snow levels are expected to drop a little bit on Saturday morning," Osborne said. "But it's still not going to get as low as (the Grass Valley area); they could be down to 4,500 feet."

Storms this season are generally bringing only modest amounts of snow to the area, meaning that the region would need about 15 to 20 more storms in order to reach April 1 averages, Gehrke said. It's a scenario that's "not in the cards."

"The weather patterns just aren't producing that," he said.

Sunday might make a good day to go up the hill to play, as a break in the storm pattern is predicted with partly sunny skies and a 20 percent chance of showers. Slight chances of rain will continue through Tuesday night, Osborne said.

"There might be a little something with the next system on Monday and Tuesday," she said. "But the next storm will likely come through by Wednesday night into Thursday."

As for California's water supply, results from Thursday's survey confirm that it, still, is "in quite bad shape," Gehrke said. A part of the problem is year-after-year water shortages.

"Our water system is really pretty resilient for a year and a half, or two years maybe," he said. "But when you start having these dry years stacked on top of each other, your reservoir storage just keeps going down."

DWR Director Mark Cowin said the key moving forward will be water conservation.

"We welcome the late storms, but they are not enough to end the drought," he said in a statement.

"We can't control the weather but we can control the amount of water we use. This drought is a wake-up call that we all have to take water conservation seriously and make it a way of life."

Griffin Rogers, a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of The Union, contributed to this report. Contact Editor Brian Hamilton via email at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 530-477-4249.

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