Mountain Snowpack in California Well Below Average

After massive snowfall in 2016-17 brought the state out of drought, precipitation amounts this winter are off to a slow start

Mountain Snowpack in California Well Below Average

Frank Gehrke, an employee of the California Department of Water Resources who conducts the manual snow surveys, is shown at the Phillips survey site where snowpack is only 3 percent of the average. (Photo by The Mercury News)

Heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas at this time a year ago officially brought California out of its years-long drought. Officials warned that one wet season was only a small step toward recovery, and the reason for that warning could be seen recently with the first 2018 surveys of the mountain snowpack.

According to media reports, the state Department of Water Resources’ first manual survey earlier this month showed snowpack at 3 percent of the average for early January.   

“While we would have liked to have had more snow at the first of the year, I believe more will come,” DWR Director Grant Davis says.

The 3 percent figure is based off the manual survey at Phillips, a former post office and stagecoach stop at an elevation of 6,800 feet. Electronic readings from 103 “snow pillows” scattered throughout the mountains indicate the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 24 percent of normal. The snowpack is a key replenisher of reservoirs during the spring, summer and fall.

“As we’re only a third of the way through California’s three wettest months, it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about what kind of season we’ll have this year,” Davis says. “California’s great weather variability means we can go straight from a dry year to a wet year and back again to dry.”

Still, officials say it’s a prime example of why water conservation continues to be important despite the fact the state isn’t officially in a drought.

 Sources: The Sacramento Bee; The Mercury News


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