- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Sierra ski resorts and drought-stricken farmers are rejoicing after a weekend storm dumped up to 5 feet of snow on top of the mountains and brought near-record rainfall to Lake Tahoe.

A winter storm warning expired Monday morning at Tahoe, where Incline Village schools were delayed by two hours.

The level of Lake Tahoe had risen an estimated 4 inches by Sunday - a total of 13.7 billion gallons of water, or enough to cover 65 square miles a foot deep, the National Weather Service said. The 4.4 inches of rain at Tahoe City, Calif., was the ninth biggest 24-hour total on record.

Weather service meteorologist Dawn Johnson said elevations above 8,000 feet got 3 to 5 feet of snow, with 2 to 3 feet in areas between 7,000 and 8,000 feet.

It allowed area ski resorts to greatly expand the number of chairlifts and runs open in the days leading up to the President’s Day holiday weekend, typically one of the region’s busiest.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Rachel Woods, spokeswoman for Northstar California Resort near Truckee, Calif.

“We’ve been prepared because we have some of the West Coast’s biggest snow-making systems, but it’s wonderful timing to get this helping hand from Mother Nature,” she told The Associated Press on Monday. “You can see the excitement in guests’ eyes with the natural snowfall - skiers and boarders with ear-to-ear grins.”

The snowfall was so heavy that avalanche concerns on Sunday forced the closure of some resorts, including Squaw Valley, where more than 5 feet fell on the upper mountain, and caused morning delays at others, including Heavenly and Kirkwood.

“It really was a combination of wind and avalanche safety and just digging out the chairlifts,” said Liesl Kenney, a spokeswoman at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

“We got so much snow and so much heavy snow, it takes a long time for staff to get to the right places,” she said, “which is always a good problem to have.”

Kip Johnson was among the skiers eager to get going Monday at the Mount Rose ski resort on the edge of Reno.

“You know we have been waiting for this for a long time,” he told KRNV-TV. “The snow is a little bit heavier than we like just for our first day of skiing, but you know what? It is what we needed … this heavy glob that just sticks.”

The weekend blast was the first significant storm to hit Northern California in 14 months. It brought more than 2 inches of rain to Carson City and about a half-inch to Reno. But experts cautioned it would take weeks of similar storms to end the region’s immediate drought worries.

At the end of last month, snow water content was only 12 percent of normal in the central Sierra and 5 percent of normal in the northern Sierra, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack was measured at 19 percent of normal, while the Truckee River Basin’s snowpack was 11 percent.

Precipitation is still lagging about half behind the normal at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, where .6 inches has been reported since Jan. 1 compared with the average 1.33. Only 1.56 inches has been recorded since Oct. 1, compared to the normal 3.69, the weather service said.

“While it certainly isn’t going to take us out of the drought, we couldn’t have asked for a better storm,” NWS meteorologist Scott McGuire said.

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