March storms alleviate worst water woes


WEATHER WATCH: This weekend’s forecast (March 10-11) calls for temperatures to be 20 degrees warmer than last weekend’s wet episode. This warm storm will melt off some of the snowpack below 7,000 feet, which will cause river levels to rise. Several days of rain showers later in the week will arrive with temperatures somewhat colder, which could drop snow levels to 4,000-5,000 feet. Air quality is good with crystal-clear views of the Sierra range seen from as far away as the westernmost side of the San Joaquin Valley.

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Two months ago at Phillips Station, a key snowpack measuring locale near the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort in El Dorado County (6,873 feet elevation), snow was virtually non-existent. The record-setting dry month of December didn’t produce a single snowstorm. 
Thirty days later, the February measurement at Phillips Station recorded 13.6 inches of snow with 2.6 inches of water content. Those stats and data from dozens of remote sensors revealed a 14 percent of the April 1 norm throughout the Sierra Nevada.
On Monday, March 5, after the previous week’s cold storms, those figures were much improved with 41.1 inches of snow on the ground at Phillips Station and a water content of eight to 10 inches, translating to 39 percent of the April 1 norm. Farther south in the Kaweah drainage, where snow totals were 10 to 12 inches less than Phillips, the percent of April 1 normal was reported at 29 percent.
But the fact that there was finally some measurable snow laid to rest the worst fears that many locales might run out of water later this summer. There are a couple of factors why California has dodged a bullet for now and the water forecast has improved considerably. 
First, there is still plenty of time to accumulate more rain and snow. Another significant storm is due to arrive in Kaweah Country on Saturday, although snow levels will be at 8,000 feet due to the warmer temperatures associated with this system, far higher than the elevation of 1,500
feet during last week’s cold storms.
As March marches on, flood control requirements at reservoirs like Lake Kaweah begin to be lifted so more water can be stored and made available for downstream users. Add into the mix the fact that the major California reservoirs are currently at 105 percent of normal (due to  the residual from last year’s record precipitation), water-watching now has gone from dire straits to guardedly optimistic.
Last week’s storms brought just under two inches of rainfall to Three Rivers at 1,000 feet. Some higher-elevation locales, such as the Pumpkin Hollow area, received more than 2.5 inches. 
Season totals for Three Rivers are now six to eight inches depending on locale. That’s a far cry from the area average of 20 inches but there’s more on the way.  

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