The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) performed the first 2021 snow survey at Phillips Station Wednesday morning. Measurements highlight an optimistic outlook for the water year despite a dry fall. This year’s October-November period has been the 15th-driest on record for the Sierra Nevada’s. Despite a slow start to the season, it appears that things are more-or-less on track for an average year for snowfall.
“For our survey here today, we recorded a snow depth of 30.5 inches and a snow water content of 10.5 inches. This results in 93 percent of average to date and 42 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. “We always refer to the April 1 average because in terms of snow water content that’s typically when the snowpack is at its peak each year.”
The catastrophic wildfires California experienced in 2020 will likely affect the snowpack this season. “Some of those impacts may be potentially altering some of the snow retention due to the loss of tree canopy, increased snow melt rates, as well as any kind of reduced percolation due to those severely burned soils,” said de Guzman.
The first 2021 snow survey provides an overview of what types of water decisions will be made later in the season. Although conditions were positive at Phillips Station, the statewide snowpack is just 52 percent of average. De Guzman explained that the two historically wettest months will be coming in January and February and that the bulk of the snowpack can actually come from just a few winter storms.
“A dry start to the year isn’t always indicative of a dry or even critically dry year,” de Guzman noted. “In fact, the fall of 1995 actually started out pretty dry but it actually turned wet after an increase of heavy precipitation and snow between December of ’95 and March of 1996.”