Northern California and western Nevada were devastated by floods during January 1-3, 1997. Flood waters in the Carson River Basin (fig. 1) contributed to $55 million in projected damages in Douglas County and $19.5 million in Lyon County (Reno Gazette-Journal, 1997). Flooding in Douglas and Lyon Counties was extensive along the levee and irrigation systems, and agricultural land. In Carson City, damage to public facilities was estimated at $6.4 million (Reno Gazette-Journal, 1997).
In late December 1996, storms built up a large snowpack (more than 180 percent of normal) in the higher altitudes of the Sierra Nevada (Daniel Greenlee, Natural Resource Conservation Service, oral commun., 1997) and also covered the valleys along the eastern Sierra Nevada. Then, a subtropical storm system originating in the central Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands brought heavy, unseasonably warm rain to the Sierra Nevada from December 30, 1996, through January 2, 1997. During this period, the Natural Resource Conservation Service recorded 16.4 inches (provisional data; Daniel Greenlee, oral commun., 1997) of precipitation at Ebbetts Pass, Calif. (8,700 feet above sea level), and the National Weather Service recorded 3.5 inches (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climate Data Center, written commun., 1997) at Minden (4,710 feet above sea level). Rain falling below about 10,000 feet depleted about 20 percent of the high-altitude snowpack and melted about 80 percent of the snowpack below about 7,000 feet.