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SNC Class Finds Dangerously Low Snow Levels

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Winter nally arrived to Lake Tahoe in March, but drought concerns remain elevated. A Sierra Nevada College climate change class measuring snow levels in February discovered a winter sorely lacking in precipitation.

SNC Professor Andy Rost lead his climate change class up Mt. Rose for a eld day to examine the snow levels compared to previous levels. e class met with a hydrologist who works at the National Weather Service in Reno. is hydrologist works with databases, helps with public outreach, and goes out to sites where there has been flooding. Students snowshoed into the Mt. Rose resort and went to the Snow-tell stations.

As of February, precipitation was only at 80 percent of the accumulated average, and the snowpack at a critical 15 percent. Depending on elevation, these statistics can vary, however these were noted at the site in which the students were testing.
“We are experiencing a snow drought due to a lack of precipitation,” SNC student Teah Fisher said. “ is isn’t strictly related to climate change as we learned in the eld trip, but this is due to a really different weather pattern.”

A clear example of their work is the data from last year. The snow levels of early 2018 are minimal compared to the near threatening levels of snow received in early 2017.

The hydrologist went on to explain how this year’s current weather pattern is causing flooding due to rain/snow mixtures. The class will continue to examine the levels as the semester goes on. A hearty snowstorm in early March improved the outlook, but so far snowfall pales in comparison to the record-setting weather of 2017.

Snow-tell stations are 24 feet tall and have precipitations gauges that measure the snow depth. The tool is a long cylinder that collects snow and then is weighed.

There are over 800 (Snow-tell) sites around the U.S., the hydrologist said.

Making Weather History at Mt. Rose

Dr. James Church was a literature professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who loved mountaineering. In 1896, he got a small grant to set up weather stations, and started with precipitation gauges and a hut on Mt. Rose.

Church developed a tool called the Mt. Rose Sampler, also known as a Snow Sampler. When he was up near Mt. Rose, there were arguments over water in Lake Tahoe, water for agriculture, and water supply. He found that he could predict how much water is going to be in the lake in 1905 when he developed the tool. This innovation started snow surveying.

During the February trip, students went out on the mountain with beacons and shovels. When the class got to the station hut, they were assigned into small groups to measure snow depths. They measured snow depth with their probes and collected data in different areas.

At the end of the day, students learned how to use their shovels, dig a pit, measure snow depth and density, examine layers, and make assumptions about snowfall frequency. The hydrologist helped explain to the students that in February of 2017, there was four times more water content at the site than in February of this year.

“It was interesting seeing different levels of snow and how they structurally stick together,” Senior Kellen Rhoda said.

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SNC Class Finds Dangerously Low Snow Levels