Latest Snow Survey Suggests Third Year of Drought Conditions

Brian GermanWater, Weather

The third snow survey of the season conducted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) reflected two consecutive months of largely dry conditions. Manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit, Sean de Guzman said the first two months of 2022 were the driest consecutive January and February in more than 100 years in the Sierra Nevada. Measurements taken at Phillips Station highlighted the lack of significant precipitation over the past eight weeks.

Snow Survey

“For the survey today, we recorded a snow depth of 35 inches and a snow water content of 16 inches. That results in 68 percent of average to date and 66 percent of the April 1 average at this location,” de Guzman noted. “In comparison, our statewide snowpack is 63 percent of average based off of our automated snow sensor network.”

Some of the above average temperatures in February did create some snow melt, but the expectation is for the snowpack to remain intact over the coming weeks. de Guzman also highlighted the fact that snowmelt and runoff may not necessarily follow historical patterns, emphasizing the significance of the current water and snow levels. “It’s also important to note that most of our major reservoirs are still below average with our statewide reservoir storage at approximately 73 percent of average,” de Guzman explained.

While there have been instances of a ‘miracle March’ bringing water and snow levels back towards average, there is not a high likelihood of seeing it this year. According to the March forecast from the Climate Prediction Center, areas of the Northern Sierra may receive some more rain and snow. However, de Guzman noted that there is less confidence in the Central and Southern Sierra receiving that same benefit.

“Our team’s latest statewide snowmelt forecasts are only about 66 percent of average. That’s not enough to fill up our reservoirs,” said de Guzman. “Without any significant storms on the horizon, it’s safe to say that we will end this year dry and continue on into the third year of this ongoing drought.”

The next snow survey of the current water year is tentatively scheduled for March 30.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West