Jan 3, 2019

California snowpack below average in year’s first survey – ‘anything is possible’ for water supply

by
Vincent Moleski
,
Sacramento Bee
John King, a DWR water resource engineer who conducted the survey, discusses the snowpack in Phillips, California. Photo: Vincent Moleski
John King, a DWR water resource engineer who conducted the survey, discusses the snowpack in Phillips, California. Photo: Vincent Moleski

Despite a flurry of recent winter storms, the California Department of Water Resources’ first snow survey of the year came up short of average Thursday.

However, the substandard snowpack was a far cry from last year’s measurement, when the hills in Phillips, the site of the survey near Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada, received patchy snow at best.

John King, a DWR water resource engineer who conducted the survey, measured 25.5 inches of snow at Phillips, which is equivalent to 9 inches of water, reaching 80 percent of average for this time of year and 36 percent of average April levels.

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Statewide, California fared worse. Overall, the snowpack is at 67 percent of average for this time of year at 7.1 inches of snow-water, according to DWR data.

As of Wednesday, the Northern Sierra and Trinity region was at 61 percent of average for this date at 6.7 inches of snow-water, the Central Sierra to the east of Sacramento was at 69 percent of average for this date at 7.9 inches of snow-water, and the Southern Sierra, which stretches to the end of the Valley, was at 72 percent of average for this date at 6.1 inches of snow-water, according to DWR data.

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“The last few years have shown how variable California’s climate truly is and what a profound impact climate change has on our water resources,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a prepared statement. “California’s significant weather variability means we can go from historic drought to record rainfall, with nothing in between. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the extremes, creating additional challenges for maintaining water supply reliability and the need for innovative solutions.”

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The state is currently 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average, due in part to a weak tropical el Niño, Anderson said, though it has been consistently warmer than average since 2013 and can expect to see warming trends moving forward consistent with climate change.