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Snow Survey Shows Improved Snowpack Still Below Average

California’s Department of Water Resources conducted the agency’s second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station Tuesday morning, recording 29 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 10 inches, which experts say is 58 percent of average for this location. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.

Today’s results reflect a modest increase in the snowpack since January 1st, but overall conditions are still far below normal. DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout the state indicate that the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 8.4 inches, or 52 percent of average for this date, an improvement from just 28 percent of average on January 1st. One year ago, the snowpack statewide was 214 percent of average on February 1st.

“This year’s El Niño has delivered below average precipitation and an even smaller snowpack,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Californians must prepare for all possible conditions during the remaining months of the rainy season.”

Despite additional precipitation in January, many storms so far this year have been warmer than average, producing rain rather than snow at higher elevations. Overall statewide precipitation is 82 percent of average for this date.

DWR staff conduct the snow survey at Phillips Station on January 30th – DWR photo

Last year’s snowpack was aided by both above average precipitation and below average temperatures, which created a historic snowpack and improved reservoir storage statewide, which is still above average.

Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s largest reservoir, is currently 76 percent of average.

“Despite strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, a high-pressure system and several other climate factors have led to below average conditions so far and most storm impacts have been focused along the coastal regions,” said Dr. Michael Anderson, State Climatologist with DWR.

“Many of these storms have also been warmer than average and produced more rain and less snow, a far cry from last year’s near-record snowpack and once again demonstrating how California can swing from one extreme to another.”

On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs. Its natural ability to store water is why the Sierra snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir.” Data from these snow surveys and forecasts produced by DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit are important factors in determining how DWR manages the state’s water resources.

DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, May. The next survey is tentatively scheduled for March 1st.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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