Warm Winter Storms Melting Sierra Snowpack

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SODA SPRINGS (CBS13) — Warm storms at high altitude are washing away snow in the Sierras and the runoff is filling up reservoirs throughout the northern part of California.

The heavy rains are also impacting the slopes.

“It’s slippery and hard to stop,” said one snowboarder at Boreal Mountain.

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State workers at the Department of Water Resources are also taking notice.

“So you’re getting rains in areas that you should be getting snow,” said David Rizzardo, the Snow Survey Chief with the Department of Water Resources.

He says high altitude rain washes away the snow and creates a tremendous amount of runoff.

“This time of year, the reservoirs do have leave a little bit of room in case we do get bigger storms so we don’t flood down the stream,” said Rizzardo.

All the rain in the valley is a positive. The reservoirs are filling up earlier than anticipated, but much of the incoming water is having to be released.

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“They’re built as a buffer and you need a little bit of that space to capture the potential high water events that we can have,” said Rizzardo.

With little notice, floods like in 2006 and 2011 can happen, which is why there is careful consideration for how much water is kept in the reservoirs.

“It’s really kind of a tough game sometimes,” said Rizzardo.

While experts are encouraged by the rainfall, their enthusiasm melts away with disappearing snow.

“It’s not good because we have to start all over from scratch to start rebuilding our snow pack,” said Rob Baruffaldi with the National Weather Service.

He says another warm storm is on the way. Rain as high as 7,500 feet.

“We’re looking at another fairly substantial system moving through,” said Baruffaldi.

Flood watches have been issued for 12 counties. Wind gusts of 30 to 45 miles per hour are expected on Thursday.

“Potentially small rivers and creeks overflowing their banks,” said Baruffaldi.

Rizzardo says there is no reason to panic just yet. The snowpack is at about 11-15% of the total average forecast for the year, which is right on track with previous years.

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