California on Track for One of Top 10 Worst Snowpacks EVER Recorded

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What a difference a year makes. April 2019 v April 2020. Credit: NWS

California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack is well-below normal for this time of year, and in fact, the water content around the state is only about HALF the April average, authorities said Wednesday. At the same time last year, the snowpack was a massive 161% of average.

The state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted the fourth monthly manual snow survey of the season Wednesday at Phillips Station snow course south of Lake Tahoe. They found the snowpack was equal to 16.5″, or about 66% of the April average for that location. Statewide, measurements from 130 electronic snow sensors showed a water equivalent of 15.2″, or 53% of the April average.

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Snowpack % of normal in California and Nevada. Credit: NWS

DWR spokesman Chris Orrock says that although the region experienced a handful of big snowstorms in March, they weren’t enough to make up for a dry January and one of the driest Februaries ever recorded.

“This year we’re probably going to have one of the 10 worst snowpacks in California history,” says Orrock.

Snowmelt normally provides about 30% of California’s water supply and April 1 is typically when the snowpack is at its peak. However, California reservoirs are in good shape thanks to last year’s runoff, with the six largest holdings between 82% and 125% of their historical averages for the date, according to the department.

“Over the last decade, California’s snowpack has been alternating between extremely wet and extremely dry,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of the department’s Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast Section. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen three of our smallest snowpacks on record, but we’ve also seen three of our largest snowpacks on record.”

Drought conditions exist in the northern and central two-thirds of the state, according to a recent map from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

drought, California
Current drought status across the USA. Credit NWS

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