First 2020 Snow Survey Bodes Well for the Year Ahead

Brian GermanWater

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted the first 2020 snow survey at Phillips Station, providing a positive outlook for the months ahead.  After a slow start to the 2020 water year, it appears that the most recent storms in November and December have helped put the state back on track.

2020 snow survey

“We have a snow depth here at Phillips, a depth of 33.5 inches; a snow water content of 11 inches, and 97 percent of an average January, as well as 44 percent of the April 1 average here at this location,” said Sean DeGuzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section.  “In comparison to our statewide automated snow sensor network, as of this morning, our statewide snowpack is currently at 90 percent of average.”

In a typical year, California will receive approximately 75 of its annual precipitation between December and February.  The water year 2019 started off in a similar fashion with a slow beginning in fall and early winter, eventually developing into the fifth-largest snowpack in California history. Although the survey revealed a strong start to the 2020 season, DWR’s State Climatologist Dr. Michael Anderson tempered expectations for the months ahead.

“We experience fantastic variability here in California, not only year-to-year but within the year. Last year, we were a little drier than this but had an amazing February that pushed us into one of our larger snowpacks,” Anderson noted.  “Given that large variability it’s really difficult to say now where we’re at versus what the outlook will be when we get to April 1.”

It is still far too early to estimate what type of impact the current snowpack level will eventually have on water allocations later in the season.  California’s major reservoirs are currently all above 90 percent of their historical averages, with several above 100 percent.  The next 2020 snow survey is scheduled for Thursday, January 30 at Phillips Station.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West