Rain gain

Recent showers are a mixed bag

National Weather Service meterologist Chris Smallcomb points toward a structure that launches weather balloons.

National Weather Service meterologist Chris Smallcomb points toward a structure that launches weather balloons.


A spate of recent rains made Reno feel like Little Seattle, with a bolstered Truckee River and glossy green lawns. During the last days of May, a data gathering station at Mount Rose showed almost double the area’s average precipitation for the month.

Could the drought be over, or at least on the mend?

Well, let’s start with the good news. May precipitation “was very helpful to irrigators,” wrote Jeff Anderson, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey program, “because it supplemented a very meager runoff and reservoir water supplies. This will hopefully help farmers get at least one cutting of alfalfa before surface water supplies run out.”

Bill Hauck, senior hydrologist for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, said that although gains are “not significant,” reservoirs feeding the Truckee River are higher. Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake each rose by about an inch, and Independence Lake by several.

TMWA customers’ water demands are down, he added, “which has a benefit [of] resting our aquifer and leaving more water in the river for downstream fish and wildlife.”

On the other hand, we’ve still got a wicked water deficit. And while showers have probably delayed the start of fire season, they could indirectly make it riskier.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Chris Smallcomb with the National Weather Service. The moisture “will green things up, and that will delay the onset of our wildfire season maybe by a few weeks or a couple of weeks. But on the flip side, when all the grasses that have grown because of the rain finally dry out in a few weeks, that could perhaps make the fire season more severe if we have fires, because there’s more vegetation to burn.”

Because we can’t win for losing, consider cheat grass, a well-known invasive species that’s prolific at the moment.

“Cheat grass is always a threat every year when it comes to wildland fire,” said Lisa Ross, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. “The grass is longer now than it was at the same time the last couple of years, but the last couple of years have been extremely dry, so it was probably more normal growth this year … especially at the higher elevations, where it’s still growing, and it hasn’t cured.”

One way the NWS measures our area’s water (or lack hereof) is in years. Consider the last four years, for example, and we’re still lacking more than a healthy year’s worth of precipitation.

“What we need to alleviate the long-term drought are a couple of average to above-average winters, in terms of snowfall and rainfall,” Smallcomb explained.