California’s First Snow Survey Reveals Snowpack at a Paltry 25% of Historical Average

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted its first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station, revealing that the snowpack is currently below average for this time of year. This survey was done just before the snowstorm hit the region this week.

The manual survey recorded 7.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 3 inches, amounting to just 30 percent of the average for this location. Statewide, the snowpack is also below average, measuring at 25 percent of the average for this date.

Last year, California experienced significant snowpack, but the start of this water year has been dry despite some recent storms in December that provided a slight boost to the snowpack. Although state reservoirs are currently above average, and El Niño conditions are present in the Pacific Ocean, the outlook for the rest of the winter remains uncertain.

“California saw firsthand last year how historic drought conditions can quickly give way to unprecedented, dangerous flooding,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Although El Niño does not guarantee an above average water year, California is preparing for the possibility of more extreme storms while increasing our climate resilience for the next drought.”

DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations across the state indicate that the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 2.5 inches, equivalent to 25 percent of the average for this date, compared to 185 percent last year.

“While we are glad the recent storms brought a small boost to the snowpack, the dry fall and below average conditions today shows how fast water conditions can change,” said DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman. “It’s still far too early to say what kind of water year we will have, and it will be important for Californians to pay attention to their forecasts and conserve water, rain or shine.”

To prepare for potential flooding, DWR recommends that residents follow three basic steps: be aware of your risk, be prepared with an emergency kit and evacuation plan, and take action by subscribing to local emergency providers and following evacuation orders promptly.

One year ago, the January survey at Phillips Station showed water content at 177 percent of average, leading to a series of storms that caused flooding across the state and resulted in one of the largest snowpacks on record.

The Sierra snowpack typically supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs. Data from snow surveys are crucial for managing the state’s water resources.

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