A satellite view of Mono Hot Springs February 12, 2017 (left) and February 11, 2018 (right).  Teodros Hailye/Image by Planet Labs
A satellite view of Mono Hot Springs February 12, 2017 (left) and February 11, 2018 (right).  (Teodros Hailye/Image by Planet Labs)

Before-and-After Photos of Sierra Show Snow Levels Worse Than During Drought

Before-and-After Photos of Sierra Show Snow Levels Worse Than During Drought

California's "frozen reservoir" is already melting.

With California locked in the embrace of unseasonably dry weather and high temperatures, water content of the Sierra snowpack is currently 22 percent of the long-term average for early February. That's less than it was on this date in 2015, in the most dismal depths of California's five-year drought.

In these three graphic sliders of satellite images from Yosemite, Tahoe, and Mammoth Lakes, you can see the dramatic difference in the snowpack — a key source of water for the state — from just a year ago. The contrast is especially sharp versus this time last year, when record January snows had engorged the snowpack to 177 percent of "normal."

Experts say it’s too soon for hand-wringing over another drought; the state's major reservoirs are still full, thanks to last winter's relentless rains.

“The water that you have in storage is coming off a good year," says meteorologist Jan Null. "That mitigates the fact that we’ve had an arguably abysmal precipitation year."

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We’re not in a position where we were a couple of years ago, with widespread shortages," he adds, though Null concedes that water supply can vary dramatically from place to place, depending on local sources.

“Certain areas may only get what they store locally," Null says. "The manager of a water district that doesn’t have multiple water sources, for example, might be looking at possible actions this summer."

But Null says the diminished snowpack should be a wakeup call.

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“I think most areas will not be in dire shape," he says. "But I would not be surprised to see stepped-up conservation efforts."

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