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California relies on Sierra snow for a third of its water
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SACRAMENTO (AP) — State surveyors checking California’s snowpack say a recent storm brought little help, and that snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are dangerously low.

California’s Department of Water Resources on Thursday said the state’s snowpack was at 12 percent of normal for this time of winter.

It was more bad news for the drought-stricken state facing more dry forecasts, little mountain snow and dwindling reservoirs.

The northern and central Sierra snowpack provides about a third of California’s water supply.

State climatologist Michael Anderson says only 1.53 inches of rain was recorded from October through December, the lowest aggregate total in records dating back to 1895.

Officials say 2013 was also state’s driest calendar year since records started being kept.

The first significant winter storm in nearly two months brought heavy snow to the Sierra on Thursday, where up to 2 feet was expected at the upper elevations and more than a half foot of snow forced the closure of schools at Lake Tahoe.

A winter weather advisory remained in effect in the Tahoe area until 4 a.m. Friday, but expired at midmorning Thursday in Reno, where flurries fell with much needed rain on the valley floors and a couple of inches of snow was reported in the foothills.

As much as 8 inches of snow was reported Thursday morning at Gardnerville, 5 inches in Lyon County’s Smith Valley and 4 inches in Carson City and Yerington, the National Weather Service said. More than an inch of rain fell in Verdi just west of Reno.

The state highway from Reno to Virginia City was temporarily shut down while snow plows worked to clear the way to a half dozen minor traffic accidents on the slippery mountain road Thursday morning, and schools were closed there too.

An avalanche warning was in effect along the Sierra’s eastern front from north of Reno south to the Mammoth Lakes area in California.

It marked the first significant snow since up to 3 feet fell above Lake Tahoe in early December.

Ski resort officials said it was allowing them to open up numerous additional runs and trails at Northstar near Truckee and Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood on the south end of the lake.

“This is the break we’ve been looking for,” said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

Another weak weather system was expected to bring additional light snow accumulations to the Sierra and western Nevada into Friday morning, with an inch or two possible in Reno and Carson City.