Snowpack in western Nevada is making a “dent” in the drought.

More than 10 feet of snow near the summit of Mt. Rose will help moderate a three-year drought in western Nevada, although it’s not a panacea.

Jeff Anderson, hydrologist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, said that despite a severe winter, the rainfall deficits of the past three years will be difficult to reverse.

“Now that we have such good snowpack, we can definitely reduce the deficit a bit,” he said.

But he warned against declaring the drought over. He pointed to the US Drought Monitor, which showed on Jan. 24 that western Nevada was still experiencing moderate drought conditions.

“We’ve definitely improved a lot this winter,” said Anderson.

On January 30, the NRCS released data on snow cover throughout Nevada and the eastern Sierra, reported by various SNOTEL (snow cover telemetry) sites. Across the region, snowpack ranged from 123 percent to 269 percent of normal for the date.

The Mt. Rose site had a snow depth of 128 inches and a water content of 45.1 inches, which is 196 percent of the median for the date. According to the NRCS, it’s the fifth-highest snowpack at that location since 1981.

Truckee Basin snowpack was 181 percent of the previous average and 106 percent of the normal spring peak. Tahoe Basin snowpack was 191 percent of the mean and 115 percent of the normal spring peak.

Further south, the Carson and Walker Basins set records according to the NRCS. The Carson Basin was 234 percent of the median for the date and 144 percent of the normal spring peak. Eleven out of 12 SNOTEL locations in the region reached record highs. Likewise, the Walker Basin had snow cover 254 percent of the mean for the date and 146 percent of the normal spring peak. Five out of seven SNOTEL locations in the basin reached record highs.

NRCS map showing snow cover percentages above average for Nevada and the Eastern Sierra as of January 30.

Anderson said the Carson River will have the potential for a “really good runoff season” due to the large snowpack.

“Through the summer, when the snow melts, high base flows help meet irrigation needs,” he said. “The inflows can keep up with the outflows.”

Ed James, general manager of the Carson Water Subconservancy District, agreed.

“Right now I’m optimistic it’s going to be a good year,” he said. “In the Carson we have water. It will really depend on the spring weather how soon it will come.”

Darren Schulz, director of Carson City Public Works, was also optimistic.

“As long as it doesn’t wash away prematurely, our river and stream water resources are off to an unusually good start,” he said. “It’s also great for replenishing the water table.”

However, Schulz noted that in the Carson area, more extreme droughts were mixed with good water years.

“It also shows that we’re getting more extreme droughts and banner water years these days,” he said. “Let’s consider 2017 and this year as record-breaking water years. With some extremely hot and dry years in between.”

In addition to aquifers and irrigation for farmers, snow cover will affect the summer fire season. During the drought of the past three years, large wildfires such as the Dixie and Caldor fires filled western Nevada with smoke. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy reported that more than 1.5 million acres in the Sierra burned in 2021, beating the previous year’s record.

Anderson said that large snowpacks are generally good for wildfires, but can also encourage the growth of cheat grass and other vegetation in the foothills.

“Fire season tends to be shorter,” he said. “But it definitely leads to more grass growth.”

According to NRCS, the current SNOTEL system evolved from the 1930s when what was then the Soil Conservation Service was tasked with measuring snow cover in the western United States

“The network’s high altitude locations and wide coverage provide important data used by water managers, farmers, recreation seekers, researchers and emergency managers for natural disasters such as floods and droughts,” officials said in a press release.

For information on the Nevada NRCS, see