Sierra snowpack lagging but surprises at Phillips Station


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The first snowpack survey of the season near South Lake Tahoe surprised state officials.

California Department of Water Resources personnel on Wednesday reported the snowpack to be at 93% of normal for the time of year at Phillips Station, near Sierra-at-Tahoe, but the state average is only 52%.

Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s snow survey and forecasting, conducted the measurement and said the numbers are “a little bit higher” than what they have been seeing based on the automated snow sensory network, which is made up of about 130 different sensors placed throughout California.

The snow depth measurement is 30.5 inches and the snow water content is 10.5 inches.

Sean de Guzman, chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, conducts the first media snow survey of the 2021 season at Phillips Station, near Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

Phillips Station is just one of the 260 different snow courses across the Sierra Nevada that DWR manually (or electronically) collects data in winter and spring. The data collected is critical for water managers to accurately allocate water throughout the state.

Surveys have been conducted at Phillips Station since 1941.

Earlier this year, DWR performed the survey Jan. 2 at Phillips Station and showed the snowpack was 97% of normal. That pack had a depth of 33.5 inches and snow water equivalent of 11 inches.

“The extremely dry fall has only exacerbated what has been an already unprecedented wildfire season,” said de Guzman. “We will definitely see the impacts of those wildfires on our snowpack.”

Impacts include snow retention being potentially impacted due to loss of tree canopy, increase of snow melt rates as well as reduced percolation due to severely burned soils.

Sean de Guzman (right), chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, and Jeremy Hill, DWR water resources engineer, conduct the first media snow survey.
Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

The Sierra had one of the driest October and November periods on record. The Southern Sierra suffered the seventh driest months as well this year.

The Sierra snowpack supplies 30% of water supply for the state.

The snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir” for its ability to hold water content. As the snow melts, water that doesn’t get absorbed into the ground, which is called “runoff,” will run down into mountain streams, which feed rivers, aqueducts and reservoirs. The aqueducts and reservoirs are where water can be stored for use throughout the dry season.

“It remains critical that all Californians continue to make water conservation a way of life,” de Guzman said. “California continues to experience evidence of climate change and climate variation.”

However, de Guzman says two of the historically wettest months, January and February, still remain.

He says that it’s not uncommon for a large portion of the snowpack to come from a few heavy storms. He made a point to say that despite the year starting out dry, it doesn’t exactly indicate a dry season and latest weather models are hinting at a wetter January in the first couple weeks.

“The snow survey results reflect California’s dry start to the water year and provide an important reminder that our state’s variable weather conditions are made more extreme by climate change,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in a press release. “We still have several months left to bring us up to average, but we should prepare now for extended dry conditions. The department, along with other state agencies and local water districts, is prepared to support communities should conditions remain dry.”

The next survey is tentatively set for Feb. 2.

Guzman addresses the media after the first media snow survey of the 2021 season at Phillips Station.
Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

11 fun, safe ways to celebrate New Year’s despite pandemic

2020 has been a real wild ride and most of us are ready to welcome the New Year with open arms. Celebrations will look quite different than previous years. Even Times Square in New York City has announced it will not be open to the public, however performances, celebrations and the infamous ball drop will be virtual.

As people around the country are fighting for their lives, this new year is for spending time with the ones you love. Here are some ideas:

South Lake Tahoe

1. Grab some sweets and take to the snow. Several local bakeries are offering takeaway, mouth-watering treats. Wake up early New Years Eve or Day and watch the sunrise while enjoying handmade treats. Crazy Good Bakery, Sugar Pine Bakery, TV Donuts Glazed and Confused have your sweets covered. For something more savory the new Tahoe Bagel Co, DragonFly Bagel Co and Crazy Good Bakery offer early morning artisan bagels for takeout.

2. Go on a coffee date … in the snow. This year, a bit of snow is forecast for New Year’s Eve and day so take your quarantine buddy and order takeout from several local coffee shops around town.

3. Go skiing. While New Years Day, and the day after, are already booked full at Kirkwood and Heavenly mountain resorts, there are many more resorts at Lake Tahoe.

4. If resorts aren’t your cup of tea, take a romantic snowshoe or cross-country ski with your quarantine buddy. There are multiple places in the basin. Here are some of the designated places that are top for snowshoeing:

– Rainbow Trail

– Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Stream Profile Chamber

– Bijou Community Park

– Tallac Historic Site

– Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center

5. Celebrate New Years by having an Aprés fondue party. A Tribune reporter created an inclusive guide to the best fondue party must-haves here in this winter’s Tahoe Magazine.

6. Order takeout pizza and have a party with those in your household. Since it will just be your family, make it a dress-up party or even pajama party as your ring in 2021. It will be a white New Year’s Eve, so build a crowd of snowmen and snow-women to celebrate with too.

7. The Cork and More offers date night wine pairing and date night dinners for takeout.The They are offering pre-made family and date night dinners with matching wine which are available every Friday. Call in and order your deluxe pre-made meal with a bottle of wine. Plan your date night with your sweetie because meals must be for two or more. For more information, visit or call 530-544-5253.

North Lake Tahoe

8. Go New Years Eve Disco Sledding at Granlibakken Tahoe in Tahoe City. Sled into 2021 at Granlibakken’s sled hill with a socially-distanced, outdoor celebration. On Thursday, Dec. 31, there will be two night sledding sessions, one at 4:30-6 p.m. and another at 6:30-8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and includes unlimited sledding along with party favors, laser lights, and disco music on the hill. The G-Mobile Food Truck will be serving a special menu of hot dogs, chili, chili dogs, and hot soup in bread bowls. Hot drinks, beer, and wine will also be available for purchase. For more information visit,

9. Rookies Sports Bar & Grill is having a New Years Eve with a celebration for the countdown. They will be serving up pizza, desserts and of course Champagne. Purchase your tickets in advance because there is a small capacity due to Nevada COVID-19 restrictions. Tickets are $20. The party starts at 10 p.m.

10. Lone Eagle Grille will be offering a special New Year’s Eve menu along with their regular menu. The NYE menu offers four courses with wine pairings, including appetizers, entrees, and desserts such as an arugula salad topped with pancetta pecans and paired with a sauvignon blanc from Framingham, a pan-seared foie gras or lobster risotto paired with a chardonnay or Bordeaux, filet mignon or fresh Dungeness crab with chardonnay or a Frank Family cabernet, and a passionfruit tart served with a sparkling brut rose. The dinner is $120 per person. Call 775-886-6899 or visit the Lone Eagle Grille website to reserve a spot.

11. Leave the cooking to the Olympic House in Squaw Valley this New Years Eve. The Olympic house will be crafting up a New Year’s To-go Dinner for your celebration. Chefs will include a slow roasted beef tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, house-made crab bisque, shrimp cocktail, charcuterie, and more. For dessert, enjoy Chef Cortney’s cheesecake and chocolate truffle mignardise. Olympic House also has optional red and white wine pairings, a variety of champagnes, and Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider that you can add on when you place your order. Each meal will be hot and ready to go. For more information, visit

Regardless what shore you are on, cherish the moment with your loved ones either with your household or virtually. Take your countdown outside, under the stars to ring in the New Year. Cheers to new beginnings.

*Be sure to check hours as they may be different on New Year’s Day. Also, Nevada and California have different COVID-19 regulations.