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News Link • Environment

Sierra Nevada snowpack is biggest in 22 years -- and more snow is on the way


After a month of huge blizzards and "atmospheric river" storms, the Sierra Nevada snowpack — source of a third of California's drinking water — is 177 percent of the historic average, the biggest in more than two decades.

The last time there was this much snow on Feb. 1 in the Sierra was in 1995. Pete Wilson was California's governor, "Seinfeld" was the top-rated show on television and Steve Young had just led the 49ers to a blowout win in Super Bowl XXIX.

In a breathtaking shift for a state that had been mired in five years of punishing drought, 25 feet of new snow has fallen on Heavenly ski resort in South Lake Tahoe since New Year's Day. Freeways and schools across the Sierra have been closed at times, and firefighters are having trouble finding fire hydrants.

"Some are buried under 12 or 13 feet of snow," said Eric Guevin, fire marshal at the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District in Zephyr Cove, Nevada, just north of the California state line. "We've had to use metal detectors to find them."

After a week to dry off, a new round of storms is set to roll into California. A Pacific system will dump up to 3 more feet of new snow in the Sierra by this weekend.

"It's a solid storm, not quite as big as some earlier this month, but it will still bring a decent amount of snow," said Tony Fuentes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

On Thursday, officials with the state Department of Water Resources are scheduled to escort reporters up to a Phillips Station, a meadow off Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe, for the monthly manual snowpack reading. The event is largely a photo opportunity that measures only one site.

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