View Full Version : Near-record Sierra snow good news to parched Calif

03-30-2011, 12:31 PM
Near-record Sierra snow good news to parched Calif


Chris Rivest's father sent him from San Francisco to the family vacation cabin near the Sierra Nevada crest with a seemingly simple chore - clear it and the driveway of snow.

Easy for him to say. When Rivest arrived earlier this week at the cabin near Soda Springs, about 90 miles northeast of Sacramento, the snow was so deep it nearly touched the power lines crossing in front of the cabin. Snow was piled at least 10 feet high on top of the deck of the A-frame home.

"My dad wants me to clear the deck," the ponytailed 21-year-old said Monday, as he labored to clear the driveway with a snow blower. "How do I even begin to do that? Where would I put the snow? This is absurd."

Absurdly deep is how Sierra residents and travelers might describe this season's snowfall, which is setting records at some ski resorts and nearing records at official gauging stations.

The last round of storms that blew across much of the 400-mile-long range during the weekend added several feet to what has become a snowpack of historic proportions, and one that promises an end to California's lingering drought.

After state water officials release the results of their latest snow survey Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to officially declare the drought over, said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor's office. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought in June 2008 and a state of emergency because of low water levels in February 2009.

The accumulations are measured two ways: current snow on the ground and accumulated snow for the season, which began with the first storms last fall.

More than 61 feet of snow has fallen in the Sierra high country so far this season, second only to the 1950-51 season when a total of 65 feet fell, according to records kept by the California Department of Transportation. While spring has arrived, the Sierra typically gets some snow in April, bringing the prospect of an all-time record.

Seasonal snow accumulation records already have been set at some ski resorts, including Squaw Valley USA near the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort on the lake's south side and Mammoth Mountain, the sprawling Eastern Sierra resort that attracts Southern California skiers and snowboarders.

At Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, ski patrol guides had to create tunnels just to reach their warming huts and avalanches broke out windows at two lift stations, said Wes Schimmelpfenning, 68, who has been a patrolman there for 48 years. Nearly 59 feet of snow has fallen there so far this winter, beating the old record by 29 inches.

Squaw is extending its season through Memorial Day, while Mammoth, with a peak elevation exceeding 11,000 feet, might remain open through Independence Day.

"I'm out plowing driveways, and we can't even find the houses," said Norm Sayler, who used to run Donner Ski Ranch along Interstate 80 and now operates a snow-plowing business near the top of Donner Summit. "I've been up here since 1954, and personally this has been the toughest winter I've ever had here."

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