Latest survey shows Sierra snowpack improving
Angelique Fabbiani-Leon right, State Hydrometeorologist, and Andy Reising center, a California Department of Water Resources Engineer, both from the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit, are seen during the measurement phase of the third media snow survey of the 2024 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Courtesy Fred Greaves / California Department of Water Resources

Latest survey shows Sierra snowpack improving

The headlines over the past few weeks painted a pretty dismal picture about California’s “frozen reservoir,” stating the state was in a “snow drought” and to prepare for below average snow runoff this spring due to the unusually dry start to the water year.

Fortunately, California has received several storms since and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced yesterday that their third manual survey of the season found 47.5 inches of snow depth at Phillips Station, which is 77% of the average at that location.

DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout the state indicate that the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 18.7 inches, or 80 percent of average for this date, an improvement from just 28 percent of average on January 1. The statewide snowpack is currently only 70 percent of the critical April 1 average, when the snowpack is typically at its peak. An incoming storm is expected to bring several feet of snow to the Sierra Nevada this weekend.

“We are now in the last month of the traditional snow season and while conditions have dramatically improved since the beginning of the year, March will be critical in determining if we finish above or below average,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “No matter how the season ends, we are ready to take advantage of the water we do have to benefit communities, agriculture, and the environment, and continue storing stormwater in our groundwater basins for future use.”

Overall California has received 103 percent of average precipitation, running well ahead of the snowpack. Plus surface water storage in California’s major reservoirs is currently 119 percent above average and the state continues to benefit from efforts to capture and store as much water as possible.

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 snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, May. The next and possibly final survey is tentatively scheduled for April 2.

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