‘Extra winter’s worth of precipitation’ needed to bust California drought, scientist says
Some westerners are heaving a sigh of relief as recent river storms have pummeled the drought-parched region and others are on the move. However, scientists warn that it is too early to celebrate.
“At this point in time, we still have four or five months left in our snow season and our typical rainy season,” said Andrew Schwartz, principal scientist at the Sierra Snow Central Laboratory. “That means while we’re kicking the first quarter of the game. Right now, we still have three quarters left, and there’s a lot that can happen.”
It shows the record amount of snow the lab recorded last December. The Soda Springs, California laboratory holds one of the longest manual snow depth records in the world, dating back to 1879. The photo below is of the lab after over 17 inches of snow fell in December 2021 – over half the snow they usually take in one season.
“We had a massive snowpack as well (last year) because we had a record December,” he said. “But from January to March it was closed and we didn’t see as much rain in that period as we would have liked.”
In fact, January and February 2022 were the driest consecutive months in all of California’s 127 years of record keeping. The Sierra received half of its annual rainfall from December to February, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
The Sierra Snowpack is where most of the state’s water is stored, according to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. This snowpack supplies drinking water to more than 75% of Californians. As the snow melts in the spring, the runoff fills the reservoirs before the dry season in the summer.
How much snow do we need to make a hole in a drought?
“At this point in time, we really need an additional amount of winter precipitation,” Schwartz said. “So it’s not going to happen in a year. At the very least, we’re probably looking at 3 to 4 above average before we can really talk about coming out of the drought.”
In an average season, the lab sees 30 meters of snow. An extra season’s snow means 60 feet in a year. This, he said, is a “tall task to undertake”.
California still has 4 to 5 more months of rainy season. So scientists will have a better idea of what came out in April.
THE CONTINUOUS 22-YEAR DROUGHT IN THE U.S. IS THE DRIEST PERIOD IN OVER 1,200 YEARS, STUDY FINDS
“If we end up at or above average in April, then we can start talking about strong drought impacts,” Schwartz said.
The latest lab snowpack measurements show a very promising 170% of normal now. The site has had almost double the average snowfall so far, but it has been drier snow with less water.
Schwartz calls the snow the area generally gets “Sierra cement” because it’s dense and saturated with water. This is very different from the so-called fluffy “champagne dust” commonly seen in the mountains of Colorado.
THAT’S HOW BIG A SNOWMAN CAN GET with all that snow
California isn’t the only state hoping for snow.
“The Colorado River depends on snowpack in the Rocky Mountains,” said Patti Aaron, retired public information officer for the US Bureau of Reclamation.
The northern Rockies are currently about 100% of average snowfall, while the southern Rockies fall to 30-75% of normal snowfall.
MORE HUMAN REMAINS FOUND AT LAKE MEAD
Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the country and Lake Powell is the second largest. They are two of the many reservoirs built on the Colorado River to store water for the western states to provide the resource during wet and dry times.
Forty million Americans rely on the entire Colorado Basin for water. The Colorado River waters 25% of the nation’s food grown on about 2 million acres of farmland. Up to 70% of the water that travels through the Hoover Dam goes to agriculture.
BOR scientists estimate that the Rockies will need at least four consecutive years of average or above-average snowfall to fill the deficit in the Colorado River.
Drought was a contributing factor multiple billion dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2021. Many consider snow crucial to mitigating the drought.
THE HANDS ARE CONSIDERED KEY TO THE LONG-TERM IMPLEMENTATION OF SILENCE
La Niña effect
Some climate specialists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration think the continuation of La Niña could lead to another year of reduced precipitation in the West. This would be the third winter in a row that the atmospheric phenomenon was partially responsible for robbing water from the west.
“The current circulation pattern (complicated by the warming trend of the western US over the past 40 years) is causing precipitation to fall more often as rain than snow. This does not bode well for winter mountain snow, which is crucial during the spring and summer melt season as a dry season water supply,” said meteorologist Richard Heim, of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
NOAA’s latest advisory gives a 71% chance of La Niña turning into a neutral pattern between February and April. This coincides with the end of the rainy season and is likely too late for the western states to benefit.
THE END LEFT NINA’S TRIPLE-DIP IN REVIEW
The next batch of storms promises lots of snow and rain
The next set of storms traveling along the atmospheric river hits the Golden State just in time for New Year’s snow.
NO REST FOR IT: ANOTHER ATMOSPHERIC RIVER Aims to Absorb CALIFORNIA
Flood and winter weather advisories are now in effect. See how much rain and snow is falling on FOX Weather on TV, FOXWeather.com and the FOX Weather app.