March Storms Had Nominal Impact on California’s Snowpack

Brian German Agri-Business, Water

Despite some fairly significant storms that came through during the month of March, California’s snowpack only measures approximately half of the average for this point in the year.  The April 1 manual snow survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) at Phillips Station reflected some noticeable gains from the month prior, but the measurements remain well below the average.

california's snowpack

“We measured a snow depth of 43.5 inches, a snow content of 16.5 inches and that resulted in 66 percent of the April 1 average at that location,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section.  “Statewide, our snowpack is currently at 53 percent of average as of this morning, which is slightly less than what we were seeing up at Phillips today and that’s mainly because our Southern Sierras aren’t performing nearly as well as the Northern and Central Sierra Nevada’s.”

While California’s snowpack sits just above half of the state average, the measurements did reflect some improvement from the month prior when the snowpack measured just 46 percent of the historical average.  The storm systems in March were just not quite enough to compensate for the driest February in California history.  “On an average year, you can expect to be standing on top of five feet of snow at the Phillips Station snow course.  Today we were only standing on almost three-and-a-half feet,” de Guzman noted.  

The focus will now be turning to what the snowpack will mean for water supplies as the summer months approach.  All but two of the states 12 most prominent reservoirs currently remain above 80 percent of the historical average, with eight of them measuring more than 90 percent of average.  There have been concerns about a possible drought returning to California, however, the state’s weather conditions can vary significantly from year to year which makes it difficult to accurately predict.  “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen three of our smallest snowpacks on record, but we’ve also seen three of our largest snowpacks on record,” de Guzman pointed out.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West