Sunday, March 8, 2015

First 2015 Snow Survey

At the end of February it was time to put on the skis and head up into the mountains to check how much snow we had. This has been done annually since 1942 along Baker Creek in eastern Nevada, and I've been helping the last several years. Usually we have lots of snow the end of February, but this year we didn't, so we were able to drive up to the Baker Creek Campground, which saved us a couple of hours.

We started skiing up the road and came across these tracks. Any idea what they are? (Answer at end of post)
Hint: they lead to a burrow under a rock.

At 8,000 feet we had enough snow on the road to ski, but not enough to get around the sagebrush bushes.

So we had to walk, carrying our skis. Not fun.

We found snow on the ground at the first snow course, but there was so little we had to put all the snow in the tube from the five samples into a plastic bag and do a bulk sample to weigh it.
The snow water equivalent (moisture in the snow) at Baker Creek #1 was 1.8 inches, or 36% of median (1981-2010). The snow depth was 10 inches, or 50% of median (1981-2010).

We did a quick group selfie.

Then it was time to head further up the mountain. Nicole with the NRCS office was doing this snow survey for the first time, but the rest of us were repeat offenders.

When we got up higher we found some nice snow.

But then we reached spots that were melted out and we had to take the skis off. It was a workout putting skis on and taking them off.

Fortunately the second snow course had more snow.

This is looking back up towards the top ski course marker. You can see the nice powder.

The snow is measured by pushing the snow tube into the snow. Often it picks up some dirt at the bottom, which has to be removed to get accurate measurements.
The snow water equivalent (moisture in the snow) at Baker Creek #2 was 5.1 inches, or 47% of median (1981-2010). The snow depth was 25 inches, or 61% of median (1981-2010).

On the way we passed this sign: Baker Lake Trail. Someone had added infinity miles. Someone else had added 2.7 miles. And someone else had written Turn Around. Fortunately we didn't have to go all the way to Baker Lake.

Mark on the ground! He's our best skiier. I fell eight times on the way down, so he was doing much better than me. Our snow conditions were constantly changing from icy to powder to a crust and depths from zero to over two feet. It made it a challenge.

Even as we got higher we found spots that didn't have much snow.

Finally we arrived at the big meadow with a spring channel along one side that is our third and last snow course.

The sign looked extra tall this year.

It started snowing on us as we measured. We were hoping for a quick six inches to cover all the rocks to make it a smoother trip down, but it was about a fifteen-minute dusting. The orange zigzag sign was for when they did aerial surveys of this snowcourse; an observer from an airplane would be able to estimate snow depth based on how many zigs or zags he could see.
The snow water equivalent (moisture in the snow) at Baker Creek #3 was 5.7 inches, or 43% of median (1981-2010). The snow depth was 30 inches, or 67% of median (1981-2010).

When we finished measuring, we geared up for the trip down (for me that meant putting on my snow pants in anticipation of closer contact with the snow). We entered the clouds for part of the trip down, which is a really strange feeling out here where we're used to seeing over twenty miles every day.
The data we gathered is used by the NRCS to do water forecasting. They just issued their March 1 Nevada Water Supply Outlook Report, and it's kind of grim. We're hoping for lots of March snow so that the April snow survey will be more skiing and less walking, and more importantly, the fish will have more water during the summer.

p.s. Did you guess what animal left the tracks on the road? If you guessed marmot, you're right! They are one of the longest hibernating animals in the world. They usually wake up in March or April and then hibernate in July, after they've eaten the tastiest of greens, but apparently there's enough to eat for at least one to be awake in late February.

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