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Sierra Nevada snowpack only 20 percent of average

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The state is experiencing one of the driest starts to winter ever.

How dry is it? The depth of the problem was exposed by the California Department of Water Resources on Friday after taking its first Sierra Nevada snow survey of the season.

Thus far, the weather has been much more fall than winter-like in California, where the snow totals right now are pretty minimal.

Snowpack 20 percent of average

Surveyors report that the snowpack is only 20 percent of average across the mountain range that serves as a crucial water bank for the state. In the northern mountains, home to the state’s largest water storage reservoirs, the snowpack is just 10 percent of average.

That ties a record for the driest snow survey ever recorded in January, equaled only by January 2012. That year became the first of two dry winters, and it looks increasingly like a third is underway.

The National Weather Service predicted that California is likely to see below-average rainfall for the entire month of January. That means the state is likely to emerge from winter with two of its wettest months essentially missing.

Chance of snow this week

However, a couple of storms may break through the high pressure and reach California on Tuesday and Thursday. But they are expected to be weak by the time they reach the state, and bring little if any precipitation.

Due to a lack of natural snow thus far, snow making has been relied on
more than usual by Lake Tahoe’s 14 ski resorts, which were all open by
the middle of December.

Snow making saving 2013-14 season thus far

The snow making, combined with mostly cold temperatures in December,
salvaged what could have been a horrible holiday season for Lake Tahoe
ski resorts. The Christmas holidays are typically the busiest time of
year for Tahoe resorts.

The Lake Tahoe basin’s snowpack is only 37 percent of average for the
date, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Dry conditions were matched with cold temperatures, allowing the Lake
Tahoe ski resorts to use snow making equipment to open substantial
terrain for the busy holiday period.

Snow making at Heavenly, Northstar

Heavenly Mountain and Northstar California, both owned by Vail
Resorts, possess the two largest snow-making systems in the West,
according to company spokesman Russ Pecoraro.

At Heavenly, Pecoraro said snow guns can cover 73 percent of the
resort with man-made snow. On Christmas, Heavenly had 19 lifts
operating in both Nevada and California, accessing more than 13 miles
of skiable terrain.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, which combined operations in 2011 to
form the largest ski resort in the country in terms of skiable acres,
also understand the impact of snow making.

The two resorts have made $70 million worth of mountain upgrades and
have made a commitment to expand snow-making capabilities, spending
$5.2 million since 2012.

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