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CA Drought: ‘Not Out of the Woods’ Despite Huge Snowpack

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Snow at Lake Tahoe
California's mountain snow holds 160% of the water it normally does this time of year. (Shutterstock)
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SACRAMENTO — California’s mountain snow holds 160% of the water it normally does this time of year, state water officials announced Thursday, marking a strong start to the drought-stricken state’s traditionally wet winter season.

Still, it’s too early to determine whether California will see enough rain and snow in the months to come to put a dent in the drought.

The state is “definitely not out of the woods quite yet,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of the snow surveys and water supply forecasting for the state Department of Water Resources.

De Guzman spoke at Phillips Station, one of hundreds of locations where state officials make manual or electronic snowpack measurements multiple times per year.

The snowpack at Phillips Station, which is near Lake Tahoe, was manually measured at 78.5 inches, with a snow water equivalent of 20 inches. That’s 202% of the average for the spot on this date.

‘Keep Conserving,’ Says DWR Director

“We could not have asked for a better December in terms of Sierra snow and rain,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “But Californians need to be aware that even these big storms may not refill our major reservoirs during the next few months.

“We need more storms and average temperatures this winter and spring, and we can’t be sure it’s coming. So, it’s important that we continue to do our part to keep conserving – we will need that water this summer.”

About a third of California’s water supply comes from snow as it melts and flows down from the Sierra Nevada and the Shasta-Trinity mountain range in northern California.

California just finished its second-driest year on record and many of the state’s reservoirs that supply water for tens of millions of people are at historic lows. But several powerful storms swept through the state this month, dumping snow and causing some road closures and major disruptions.

The storms made for a far more positive snow reading than last December, when water levels in the snowpack were at just 52% of the historical average.

One-Third of State’s Water Flows from Snowpack

About a third of California’s water supply comes from snow as it melts and flows down from the Sierra Nevada and the Shasta-Trinity mountain range in northern California.

December is the first of the three typically wettest months of California’s water year. Significant January and February precipitation is needed to generate enough runoff to make up for the previous two winters that were California’s fifth- and second-driest water years on record.

Links to Other Important Water Data

You can check the latest California snow water equivalent levels at this link.

Water levels for major California reservoirs are at this link.

Precipitation totals for the San Joaquin 5-Station Index are here and for the Tulare Basin 6-Station Index here.

(GV Wire contributed to this article.)

 

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