The California Department of Water Resources conducted its fourth snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra this week, showing Northern California residents just how paltry the state snowpack has become.
Standing in a baron field mostly devoid of anything white, water officials marched out with their usual blue measuring stick that is meant to record the amount of snow sitting at 6,873 feet elevation. With practically no snow to measure, the officials used the event to highlight the seriousness of the drought.
“Today’s snow survey reinforces what we’ve all observed – California just experienced the driest three months on record, and drought is worsening throughout the West,” California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said at the event. “Climate-driven water extremes are part of our reality now, and we must all adapt and do our part to save water every day.”
Following three straight months of record dry conditions, the manual survey recorded just 2.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of one inch, which is four percent of average for this location for April 1. Statewide, the snowpack is just 38 percent of average for this date. In NorCal, the snowpack sits at 28 percent of average.
The snowpack at Phillips Station has plummeted since the beginning of the year. On December 30, the snowpack stood at 202 percent of normal for that date. In a normal season, the snowpack depth would be about five feet deep at this time of year.
April 1 is typically when the snowpack is at its highest, however the statewide snowpack likely peaked in early-March this year and the Northern Sierra snowpack peaked in mid-January.
The underlying impact of the current drought, which is likely not to be felt for 4-6 months, is wildfires. Following four devastating wildfire seasons, the drought could once again send communities fleeing from deadly flames moving through NorCal. The six largest fires in California’s recorded history happened in the past three years. For the survivors of those fires, wildfire mitigation should be a top priority for the state.