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News

California snowpack grows significantly since early January, but...

07/02/2024 - François-Xavier Branthôme - 2024 Season
…snow survey shows conditions remain below average. “Statewide snowpack is currently at 52 percent of average”.

Even though it remained behind the global average, the Californian snowpack recorded significant gains since the start of the year. On December 31, the snowpack was measured at just 26 percent of the average for that time of year, with 2.5 inches of average snow water equivalent. The following readings from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) put the statewide summary in a much better position. As of January 22, the California snowpack was measured at 55 percent of the average for this date. The measurement represents an average snow water equivalent of 8.2 inches. So far, California has amassed 30 percent of the overall April 1 average.

 As of January 22, the Northern Sierra was faring the best this winter, measuring 64 percent of the historical average for January 22. The Central Sierra was measured at 56 percent of the average and the Southern Sierra showed to be 35 percent of the average. While the recent storms in January have helped to strengthen the snowpack in California, it is still a far cry from the beginning of 2023. Last year at this time, the California snowpack was measured at 240 percent of the historical average for January 22. The 2024 water year has gotten off to a much slower start, however, the abundance of snow last winter has helped bolster water storage.

On the same date, data from DWR showed that most of the state’s major reservoirs sitted well above the historical average. As of January 21, Shasta was measured at 115 percent of the average and 73 percent of total capacity. Oroville levels were 72 percent of total capacity and 128 percent of the average. Don Pedro measured 80 percent of its total capacity, equating to 114 percent of the average. New Melones was also 145 percent of the average at 83 percent of total capacity. Some reservoirs still below the historical average for January 21 included San Luis, Millerton, and Trinity.

Snow survey shows conditions remain below average
One week later, the second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station highlighted a lack of snow for the current water year. “Even though the storms during January slightly helped out our snowpack, we’re only about half of where we should be for this time of year,” said Sean de Guzman, Manager of the Flood Operations Section at the California Department of Water Resources.

The results from the snow survey recorded 29 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 10 inches, which is 58 percent of the average for this location. “Our statewide snowpack is currently at 52 percent of average based off of our automated snow sensor network,” de Guzman explained.

While still below average, the snow readings reflect an improvement from just 28 percent of the average on January 1. However, it is also far below the levels recorded in 2023. At this time last year, the California snowpack was measured at 214 percent of the average. During the February snow survey at Phillips Station last year, officials were standing on seven feet of snow. The lower-than-average snowpack can be partially attributed to warmer storm systems compared to last year.

Most of the storms we’ve had this year have been on the warmer side, meaning that that rain/snow transition line has been creeping up further and further compared to years past,” said de Guzman. “It’s very possible we could see above average rainfall combined with below average snowpack, which is also referred to as a ‘snow drought.’”

Although snow conditions are trending lower than average, water storage levels continue to remain strong. “During the month of January reservoirs have actually captured about 1.5-million-acre feet of storage, which puts our statewide reservoir storage at roughly 116 percent of average to date,” said de Guzman.

Latest News
California has been drenched with rain from two separate "atmospheric rivers" in recent days. 
Two weeks ago, officials with the Bay Area office of the National Weather said there was a "potentially potent Pineapple Express" atmospheric river could deliver heavy rain, high winds and flooding to the San Francisco Bay Area. The Pineapple Express is a name given to an atmospheric river that is a common feature for the west coast of the US and Canada, and the recent heavy rainfall has caused mudslides and flooding.
Los Angeles received 203mm of rain during Sunday and Monday, which is over half of LA's 362mm annual average rainfall. The surrounding hills have had over 300mm of rain in the last 48hrs. This extreme rain, falling over a short period of time, has resulted in flooding and landslides.


Sources: agnetwest.com, cbsnews.com, bbc.com
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