The third snow survey was conducted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Monday, March 5 after a series of storms forced a delay of the manual snow survey by a week. The measurement at Phillips Station, not far from Lake Tahoe, found that the snow water equivalent (SWE) is 9.4 inches, which is only 39 percent of the historic average.
“California has unquestionably experienced a dry winter this year, with a near-record dry February,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “While we’re happy to kick off March with this healthy storm, the variability of this winter’s weather patterns underscores the importance of continued conservation and the ongoing need to strengthen California’s water supply reliability for our people, our economy, and our environment.”
Snow levels improved significantly with five to eight feet of snow falling in the Sierras in late February, however, the overall snowpack is still well below normal levels. While the statewide snowpack measured 22 percent of the historic average last week, the largest Sierra storm system of the winter has brought the snowpack up to 37 percent.
The National Weather Service is expecting another storm beginning Wednesday, however, it will not be as substantial as the previous storm which brought close to seven feet of snow to upper elevations. The third snow survey indicates significant progress from the previous survey, but California would require at least four major storm events to bring the levels up to the average by April 1.
At the beginning of March 2017, Phillip Station measured 180 percent of the average snowpack as a result of the wettest winter in 20 years. The rainfall last winter has allowed California reservoirs to remain full or near full, but there are still concerns that the state may be looking at more drought conditions over the summer.