California Officials Measure One of the Highest Snowpacks in 40 years

California Officials Measure One of the Highest Snowpacks in 40 years

A layer of fresh snow is seen on a mountain the morning after a winter storm hit the region with a heavy snowfall, in South Lake Tahoe, California, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023

State officials say California currently has one of the best levels of snow covering its mountain ranges in four decades, the Associated Press reported.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted the first manual snow survey of the year this week at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. They found 55.5 inches of snow depth, which is 177% higher than average for the location, according to a statement from the department.

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Some of the latest snow accumulation came from a storm that blew over the state last week, causing widespread flooding and dumping several inches of snow on California’s mountain ranges. According to the Department of Water Resources, the recent storm and several December snowfalls have increased snow accumulation to 174% above average for this time of year statewide.

But could these mega storms alleviate the ongoing drought in the West and the dry conditions that were predicted for the state this winter? It may be too early to tell. Snowfall in early 2022 highlighted that a good start to the year doesn’t mean the snow will stick, so officials are excited ahead of time.

“Great snow totals are always welcome, but we still have a long way to go before the critical April 1 total,” Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecast Unit Manager Sean de Guzman said in the statement to press of the department. “It’s always good to be above average at the start of the season, but we have to be resilient and remember what happened last year. If January to March of 2023 turns out to be similar to last year, we will end the water year in a major drought with only half the average annual snowfall.”

In December 2021, a blizzard dropped almost 17 feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains. But by March 2022, officials found only 2.5 inches of snow at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. The average snow depth for the end of the season in that area is expected to be 5 feet, according to the water resources department. Snow levels across the state were only 38% of what they should be at that time of year. Low snowpack levels mean there won’t be an increase in meltwater to feed California’s rivers and reservoirs.

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The next snow survey is scheduled for early February.

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