California’s Sierra snowpack measures 58% of average, so more snow, rain needed to store up for summer


LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KABC) — Tuesday was the second snowpack survey of the season at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. The survey determines the “frozen reservoir” for California heading in to the summer months.

The California Department of Water Resources recorded 29 inches of snow depth, which is 58% of average for that location. Overall the state is 52% of average.

At this time last year, in the middle of a very wet winter, California’s snowpack was at 214% of average.

“Even with precipitation just below normal, we’ve already seen this year that just one storm at the perfect time and the perfect place can create flood conditions,” said Sean de Guzman, a manager with the California Department of Water Resources.

The Jan. 1 snow survey was 28% of average, and with several storms hitting the state in just the next few days, that 52% of average number is expected to rise.

“We have an atmospheric river making landfall in the coming days,” said de Guzman. “Specifically making landfall tomorrow, specifically the north coast should be hit the hardest.”

Many storms so far this year have been warmer than average, producing rain rather than snow at higher elevations, which still helps the state’s water content for the summer, but not as much if it were colder storms with more snow.

“It’s very possible we could see above-average rainfall combined with below-average snowpack which is also referred to as a snow drought,” said de Guzman.

Despite strong El Niño conditions, this winter’s storms have brought more rain than snow. On average the sierra snowpack serves 30% of California’s water needs. Also this year the state’s water reservoirs are doing a good job containing rain for the summer.

“The reservoirs are capturing as much storage as possible, balancing priorities such as water supply and flood control,” said de Guzman. “During the month of January the reservoirs have captured about 1.5 million acre-feet of storage which puts our statewide water storage at about 116% of average.”

The California snowpack reaches its peak on April 1, considered the end of the winter season. The next check of the snowpack is on March 1.

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