June snow in high country; rapid snowmelt begins

For scale, NID Hydrographer Ashley Vander Meer stands in front of the English Mountain snow shelves. Photo courtesy NID

June 11, 2019 – A wet winter bringing large amounts of snow and unseasonably low spring temperatures to the Sierra combined to keep the snowpack lingering, so much so Nevada Irrigation District (NID) hydrographers were able to conduct surveys at English Mountain and Webber Peak on June 1.

However, the National Weather Service says don’t expect it to be around for long, thanks to rising temperatures.

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It is not usual a snow survey is possible this late in the year. In fact, this only is the thirteenth time throughout the years that there has been a June NID survey on record: “It is always very exciting when we get to do snow surveys in June,” said NID Hydrographer Ashley Vander Meer.

The snowmelt cuts shelves as waterways form. Photo courtesy NID

The June NID snow survey found:

On English Mountain (snow course 7,100 feet): NID hydrographers took nine samples, including three in locations that had transformed into a running stream.

The average course water content was 23.3 inches with an average depth of 40.2 inches. Of all of NID’s June surveys, 2019 ranked ninth of 13 for water content and depth. The deepest sample was 82 inches, even though only 30 feet away the ground was dry.

The English Mountain survey also featured large snow shelves – around 6 feet tall – that had cracked and broken off: “It was really impressive,” Vander Meer said. “There was also still a very thick ice layer at the bottom of the snowpack for our first three samples.”

On Webber Peak (snow course 7,800 feet): the average course water content was 41.1 inches with an average depth of 74.6 inches. June 2019 ranked seventh (of 13) for water content and depth. The deepest sample was 94.5 inches.

Record wet weather in May left higher-than-normal snowpack levels throughout NID’s mountain watershed, and reservoirs are at full capacity. With warmer weather, the snow is melting at a fast rate.

Hydrographers Thor Larsen (left) and Robert Laird take a measurement on English Mountain. Photo courtesy NID.

In fact, the National Weather Service issued a warning on June 9: “The return of much warmer weather today through Wednesday will cause an increase in snowmelt over the higher elevations of the Sierra which will lead to a rise in water levels on many rivers and streams during the early part of this week.”

NID reminds hikers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts to carefully monitor the water conditions: “During this snowmelt, Sierra waterways pose dangerous hazards due to swift currents and very cold water temperatures. Please be mindful that minutes of exposure to the icy cold waters of a river and reservoirs can lead to hypothermia,” said Chip Close, NID Operations Manager.

The Sierra snowpack is NID’s water source. The District collects water on 70,000 acres of high mountain watershed. Water from the mountain snowmelt flows into six reservoirs in NID’s mountain division and is transported to three additional foothill reservoirs and ultimately to District customers through an extensive water transmission system. NID depends on more than 400 miles of canals and another 300 miles of pipeline to transport water to customers.

A member of the California Cooperative Snow Survey, NID typically conducts three official snow surveys each year in February, March and April. Results of the snow surveys are used to predict water availability locally and statewide.