SAN FRANCISCO
01/05/2012 07:08 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2012

Sierra Snowfall Hits Record Low: What Snow Drought Means For Tourism, Water Supply (PHOTOS)

Last January, Chief of California Coorperative Snow Surveys Frank Gehrke bundled up against the elements and took the season's first snow measurement -- a whopping seven feet -- at Echo Summit near Lake Tahoe.

But on Tuesday, Gehrke sported khakis and a light sweater as he stood in the dry grass.

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"I think this pretty much tells the story of how bare and dry things are," said Gehrke to the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. When all was said and done, Gehrke came up with a paltry one seventh of an inch -- the lowest measurement ever recorded at Echo Summit.

Anyone in the western United States has surely noticed the complete lack of snow, but the results of Tuesday's report were staggering, and they are not unique to California. According to the National Resource Conservation Service, snowpack in Idaho is the lowest it has been at this time of season in over 20 years.

"It's just been a really quiet winter so far across the country," said Gehrke.

Fortunately, according to weather.com, last year's record storms resulted in a surplus of water for the west this year. But should the dry season continue, the western states could be left with difficult questions about next year's water supply. And the Sierra tourist industry which depends almost entirely on snow, is already reeling.

"It really impacts us," said one South Lake Tahoe shop owner to KCRA. "I would say 60 to 70 percent [of the shop's annual income]."

Check out the lack of snow in the western United States in this graphic by weather.com. (Move mouse over image to compare snowpack on January 4, 2011 to January 4, 2012. Images courtesy of NOHRSC.gov/NOAA.) Then see more alarming images, courtesy of the National Snow Analysis, in our slideshow below. Main image courtesy of Flickr: mith17.

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