Water officials measure Sierra snow

January 3, 2008 8:54:12 PM PST
Sierra ski resorts and state water officials are hoping this storm proves as strong as forecasted.

The snow flurries began to fall in Lake Tahoe at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and there has been times today where the wind was blowing so hard that made it difficult for cars to drive.

They are expecting a blizzard through the weekend, and the other good news is that San Francisco and all of California needs the water, and experts were measuring today.

It's an old Pony Express stop along highway 50, a place called Phillips Station best known for a vacant field, where five times a year at precisely 50 foot intervals a team from California's Department of Water Resources takes readings and tries to predict the future.

"This kind of keeps us going, I mean, this is what we live for," said Frank Gherke from the California Department of Water Resources.

Frank Gherke and David Art will never be household names, but their work is part of a long scientific record.

David Art, California Department of Water Resources: "I believe there was one year when we had ten feet."

ABC7's Wayne Freedman: "What's the least?"

David Art: "Bare, nothing at all."

It's not the significance of this one snow course, but 270 of them across the sierra. Data collected and compared across decades. It's not a question of snow depth, but water content.

"The only way the data makes sense is to measure the water content, year after year," said Art.

Especially in a year when California worries about a drought. The sierra snow pack: an engine in this state the annual snowmelt feeding our thirst, watering our lawns, driving hydro-electric power. A cascade of causes and effects felt even by the endangered Delta Smelt.

Today's readings: 28 inches of snow.

"Well, if all this snow were to melt, we would have about seven inches on the ground," said Frank Gherke from the California Department of Water Resources.

That's about 60-percent of the average for this date. But with a large storm approaching, that's a number that remains fluid -- in a frozen sense.

"Years past, we started out dryer than average this time of year, and came out with average, or above average," said Gherke.

State water officials tell ABC7 News that even though we are below average now, in a few hours we could be above exceedingly in the year. So we are going to wait, we are going to see and the snow is getting heavy.