California snowpack lags at 25 percent of average after dry start to winter

California snowpack lags at 25 percent of average after dry start to winter

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California snowpack levels are lingering at just 25 percent of the to-date seasonal average, state water officials announced Tuesday.

“The January snow survey is always our first big reveal of snow conditions for the year,” said Sean de Guzman of the California Department of Water Resources.

“On this date last year, our statewide snowpack was already at 177 percent of average to date,” added de Guzman, who manages the snow surveys and water supply forecasting unit.

He and his colleagues measured snowpack depth and the water content of that snow — a key indicator of seasonal water supply levels — in a livestreamed event at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday.

“Here at Phillips last year on this date, we were standing on almost five feet of snow — so vastly different than what we are standing on here today,” de Guzman said, with tufts of tall grass poking through patches of snow behind him.

At this specific site, de Guzman and his team measured a snow depth of 7.5 inches and a snow-water content of 3 inches.

These results, calculated manually, amounted to just 30 percent of the to-date average and 12 percent of the April 1 average for this specific location.

Officials tend to rely on that April 1 metric because that date is typically when snowpack is deepest in the Sierra Nevada, de Guzman explained.

Statewide average snowpack levels, based on an automated snow sensor network, clocked in even lower, at just 25 percent of average to-date numbers, he noted.

Despite the discouraging data, de Guzman stressed that “it’s really still too early to determine what kind of year we’ll have in terms of wet or dry.”

Meteorologists have been anticipating wet conditions this winter due to strong prevailing El Niño conditions, which could still drench California’s coast through much of the spring.

Regardless of whether this occurs, de Guzman said that California’s water storage remains robust, at 116 percent of the average right now.

“Luckily, our statewide reservoirs are still well above average this time of year, thanks in part to how what it was last year with our wet winter,” he said.

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