Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 1, 2016 Baker Creek Snow Survey

 Last week, five of us set out to measure snow at the Baker Creek snow course sites. Three sites, from 8,200 to 9,500 feet elevation, have been measured since 1942 at the end of February and end of March to determine how much snow and water content is on the mountain. This long-term data set is one of the longest for the area. Some of the snow course sites have been replaced with Snotel sites, automated sites. A few years ago, a Snotel site was installed near the Wheeler Peak campground. The Wheeler Peak snotel shows hourly weather data, including temperature and precipitation. That site is a few miles away and at a different elevation than the Baker Creek sites, so the snow courses are continued.

We started at seven in the morning checking our gear and doing a safety briefing. Then we headed up the mountain and started skiing on just a few inches of snow on the upper Baker Creek road. We reached the first snow survey site, a bit above the Baker Lake trailhead, before nine in the morning. At each site, the snow depth is measured with a special snow tube. The snow tube is then weighed to determine the snow water content equivalent. This is repeated four more times and the average value used.

It's about a thousand foot elevation gain and a mile and a half to the second site. We found some places along the trail where the snow had melted.

Fortunately the snow looked plenty deep at the second site.

We were happy to find the snow almost three feet deep and with a water content double that of last year.

I used the calculator function on my phone to help do the calculations. We have to have density within five percent for all five measurements or we have to redo them. The whole program has been worked out to be quite field friendly.

I can't remember what got us all smiling at this moment, but overall it was a great day, with very nice weather. Plus it's hard to beat being outside!

We ate lunch a bit further on and then continued up to the third site.

The untracked snow ahead of us.

We crossed a small spring to reach the third site.

I'm going to have to go back in summer to see how this tree looks in comparison to the sign! The third snow course site is about half way to Baker Lake.

The snow was over three and a half feet deep here, with good water content. It turned out to be an almost average amount, which is a nice change from last year's much drier results.

Brooke is holding one part of the measuring tape. The measurements are taken at prescribed locations along a transect.

After we finished, it was time to head back down the trail. This can be a lot of fun, but also a bit scary, with trees, rocks, and steep sections to navigate. We all wore skins on our skis for both uphill and downhill to have a little more control.

I thought this aspen trunk was so interesting looking.

We all made it down safely, in about two hours from the top site. Despite a few falls, everyone was in good shape.
We sent the data we had collected to the Nevada NRCS office, and they used it to make the March 1 Water Supply Outlook. You can find it and more information on the NRCS website.

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