California records historic snowpack

PHILLIPS STATION, Calif. — As California experiences increasingly pronounced weather extremes, the state Department of Water Resources is reporting that a historic snowpack has emerged after years of drought.

An April 3 survey conducted by the department recorded a snow depth of 126.5 inches and a snow water content of 54 inches, which is 221% of the annual average at Phillips Station. The department’s automated snow sensor network also reported that the snowpack is 237% of average.

“This year’s April 1 result from our automated snow sensor network is actually greater than any other year that we have recorded since the snow sensor network was deployed roughly in the mid-1980s,” Sean de Guzman, manager of the department’s snow surveys and water supply forecasting unit, said during a press conference on Monday.

Manual surveys, which began in 1910, show that there have only been three other years — 1952, 1969 and 1983 — where the snowpack was greater than 200% of average in April, de Guzman said. This year marks the fourth year since 1910 where the average was over 200%.

The April snow survey is critical for predicting the amount of water that will be available to the state for the remainder of the year. The department will use the data collected to inform decisions regarding water allocation for agriculture, urban and environmental purposes. The department conducts additional surveys throughout the spring and summer to monitor the snowpack and water supply.

The department focuses on how much snow is melting after April 1, rather than the amount of snowpack that is building up as it does before that date. While this year’s record precipitation has caused flood damage throughout the state, it has also been beneficial in terms of drought conditions. Statewide reservoir storage is 107% of average, and more water is expected to be captured for storage when the snowpack melts.

The department’s Director Karla Nemeth said that despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s rollback of drought restrictions, some Californians will continue to struggle with water supply and the state needs to capture as much water as it can during the extremely wet years to compensate for the years that will be extremely hot and dry.

“Even though we have this extraordinary snowpack, we know that the droughts are getting deeper and more frequent,” Nemeth said. “That means we have to use water efficiently, no matter what our hydrologic conditions.”

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