Epic California snowpack is now the deepest it's been in decades
Published in Science & Technology News
Drought-weary California is entering February with deeper snowpack than it has seen in four decades, reflecting a healthy boost in the state's supply of water but also spurring concerns about dryness in the months ahead.
Statewide Sierra snowpack was 205% of normal for the date on Wednesday, said officials with the Department of Water Resources during the second snow survey of the season.
Even more promising, snowpack was 128% of its April 1 average, referring to the end-of-season date when snowpack in California is typically at its deepest.
"Our snowpack is off to an incredible start, and it's exactly what California needs to really help break from our ongoing drought," DWR snow survey manager Sean de Guzman said. The state's snowpack is currently outpacing the winter of 1982-83 — "the wettest year on record dating back about 40 years," he said
Snow levels at Phillips Station near South Lake Tahoe, where the monthly surveys are conducted each winter, were 193% of average for the date.
California's snow is a vital component of the state's water system, providing about one-third of its supply. Snow is particularly important in the hot, dry months of summer, when it slowly releases more water as it melts.
This year's bounty is the direct result of the atmospheric river storms that pounded California at the end of December and into January, De Guzman said. The storms dumped trillions of gallons of moisture onto the state, replenishing reservoirs and burying mountain areas under several feet of powder.
It was enough for DWR to tentatively increase its allocation of supplies for the state's water agencies from 5% to 30%. But officials on Wednesday expressed some concern about the state's recent return to dryness.
"We really don't know, here on Feb. 1, whether or not this is the peak of our snowpack," DWR director Karla Nemeth said. She added that it's "too soon to tell" if the wet January is enough to break the state's drought.
"While today's results are good news for water supplies, we know from experience how quickly snowpack can disappear if dry conditions return in the months ahead," she said.
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