Monthly Archives: January 2018

Continuing snow drought as west stumbles into mid-January

The Truckee River watersheds in the northern Sierra around Lake Tahoe and Carson Range are essentially snowless below 7,500 feet. Even at higher elevations snow is seriously lacking.

Temperatures in the west are much above the long-term average and storms have been weak. Some rain has fallen in the mountains, but overall precipitation is down along with a snowpack of 25% or less. The weather service calls for the first significant snow storm on Thursday, but some earlier forecasts of heavy precipitation events missed the mark for the Tahoe and Truckee River areas.

The NRCS graphic shows no snow in all lower elevation areas around Lake Tahoe (7,500 and below) and very little snow-water equivalent at higher elevations for this time of the year. (For example, only 13″ of snow water equivalent at both Squaw Valley and Mt Rose.)

Jan 15 2018 snow water equivalent

Jan 15 2018 snow water equivalent (click for full size)

Basin snow water equivalent percent of average

Basin snow water equivalent percent of average (Click for full size)

Far western and southwestern water basin snowpacks are very low according to the NRCS snow surveys and automated snow recording equipment. While typical winter season continues until April 1, previous droughts since 2000 seem to show that dry early winter conditions are less likely to reverse and produce more rain and snow as winter winds down.

Snow is lacking and overall precipitation is only slightly better over the long-term average. Reservoir storage is still high because of the exceptional precipitation from last year. Despite the dismal winter snow so far, it is still possible for winter to return us to average conditions. With each day, however, that possibility shrinks in likelihood.

Precipitation as of January 15, 2018

Precipitation as of January 15, 2018

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Two day storm short on snow

It didn’t snow much during the last 48 hours despite forecasts for some significant snowfall. Mt Rose Ski Resort reported only 3″ from the storm that could still produce some precipitation today and tonight while Squaw Valley reports 4″ at 8,200 ft. Forecasts call for another storm next week, but we’re still in need of significant storms to produce an average winter in the Tahoe-Truckee basin.

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Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation holds MLK Day Bioblitz

Join the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation for their Martin Luther King Day Bioblitz. Info is at their website here or just keep reading:


Join the TMPF team for the MLK Day of Service, a national event to honor Martin Luther King Jr.! Stop by for the entire program, or for only twenty minutes—we’d love to see you there! Free and open to all ages.

  • When? Monday, January 15th, 2018 from 9:00am to 12:00pm
  • Where? Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park

We will be cataloging all living things in the park as part of an annual phenology project, to garner a better understanding of the plants, animals, and other wildlife and how their populations are changing. We will transect the park, and each volunteer will be responsible for recording all the plants, animals, and wildlife they see along their transect or section. TMPF will provide more detailed field guides, pictures, and tools such as aspirators, magnifying glasses, and forceps to allow citizens at all levels of comfortability to participate, collect, and identify the changing ecology of our local parks. This is a wonderful and non-traditional volunteer opportunity and will allow volunteers to participate in an ongoing project, as well as a way to get outside and enjoy one of our many beautiful county parks.

Please contact the TMPF office at (775) 410-1702 or with any questions, concerns, or comments.

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Storm approaches: more snow or more rain?

Forecast for winter storm approaching California coast and heading to the Sierra. Click for full size.

A weather system is approaching the California Coast and the National Weather Service forecast isn’t sure how intense the snow will be around the Tahoe area.

The storm could be more intense to the south and pack less cold air resulting in less snow or rain rather than snow. Initial snow levels are expected to start at 8000 feet in the mountains and then drop to around Lake level. None of the forecasts call for snow in the Reno area.

Rain in the mountains pushed up Truckee River flows through Reno. Click for full size.



The storm last week pushed river flows up to around 900 cubic-feet-per-second in Reno on Saturday and pushed Tahoe’s water surface elevation up about 1.3 inches.†



† Truckee River flows peaked today at 900 CFS at Pyramid Lake due to the distance of more than 40 river miles the water must travel. We still have a long way to go to recover from the dismal dry December 2017 to “make up” for the deficit in long-term average river flows over the drought years from 2000 to 2016.

Truckee River flows at Pyramid Lake.

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Dry winter forecast appears more likely

December 2017 offered little rain or snow for the Lake Tahoe and Sierra.  The high pressure which has dominated the eastern Pacific Ocean has recently weakened allowing some small storms in. Today, January 5, light rain is falling in Reno but overall precipitation is likely to be light through Saturday; temperatures should remain well above normal for this time of year. A slightly stronger storm is on tap for Monday through Tuesday.

Jan-Feb-Mar 2018 precipitation forecast

However, the National Weather Service Climate Center projects that January-February-March 2018 will more likely see dry conditions because models show a higher probability of conditions that steer storms away from coastal California and the Sierra. Predictions are worse for elsewhere in the southwest with very dry conditions expected to continue.

Just last January 5, the Truckee Meadows saw flood conditions throughout the valley as well as in the Sierra Nevada and California. Major rain and snow events sent people scrambling for sandbags after a long, persistent dry period lasting 5 years, but extending back 16 years with only 2 wet winters since 2000 in 2005 and 2011. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if 2018 is off to a very good start on the water front. The health of the river needs high flows to improve conditions, regenerate the riparian, riverside forest, and provide enough water to support trout and other fish adapted to a cold water environment like the Truckee River.

I took these photographs almost a year apart that show the Truckee River where Hunter Creek comes in from the south at Mayberry Park and Bridge. Quite a change in conditions!

Flood conditions at Mayberry Bridge January 4, 2017.

Truckee River at Mayberry Bridge January 2, 2018.

Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute, was quoted in a recent Reno-Gazette Journal article warning us that our water outlook throughout the west is becoming more precarious due to unaddressed climate change. “While it’s too early to know for sure if this will be a drought year, we had better start acting as though drought was going to be a normal, not abnormal, part of western water’s future.” (emphasis added) The article went on to say that even last year with an over 200% normal snowpack, the low elevation snowpack – below 8,000 feet in elevation – was as much as 40% below the average. “That is exactly what we expect from climate change,” Gleick is quoted as saying. “The snowlike will move up because it is warmer.”

Present conditions: Check out the NRCS’s snow water equivalent map as of January 4, 2018. No, it is not good (unless you live in Montana or Wyoming).

Snowtel sites percent of normal snow water equivalent





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