California Snowpack Roughly Half of Average Despite Driest February on Record

Brian German Agri-Business, Water

California snowpack

The California snowpack is still about half of the historical average despite the driest February on record, according to the most recent data from the Department of Water Resources (DWR).  During the third manual snow survey of 2020 conducted at the Phillips Station snow course, officials measured the snow depth and what that means for water supplies heading into spring.

“We recorded a snow depth of 29 inches and a snow water content of 11.5 inches. That results in 47 percent of an average March and 46 percent of the April 1 average here at this location,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section.  “This February will most likely end up as the driest February in the Northern Sierra on record, dating back 100 years to 1921.”

The snow course at Phillips Station is only one of more than 260 snow courses across the Sierra Nevada that DWR uses to manually or electronically measure snow levels during winter and early spring.  The California snowpack statewide was in line with the measurement at Phillips Station, at 46 percent of average for this point in the year.  While the numbers that were reported Thursday, February 27 were somewhat disappointing, they were a bit surprising given the warm front that has moved into California over the past few weeks.

“Luckily though our snowpack is sticking around.  Even with the increased temperatures, the amount of water in the snowpack actually hasn’t changed all that much over the past month,” de Guzman noted.  “That’s mainly because the main driver behind snowmelt is the solar energy that’s absorbed by the snowpack not necessarily the increased temperatures.”

When asked about concerns related to another potential drought DWR officials noted that drought is not caused by a single month or a single year, given the state’s climate variability.  While the snowpack has decreased from the last manual survey, the state still has a significant amount of water in storage thanks to last year’s snowpack.  “Of our top 154 reservoirs in California we’re at 104 percent of average, so about 24.5 million acre-feet of storage right now,” said DWR Public Information Officer Chris Orrock.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West