California Snowpack Starts Off the Year at Nearly Normal

Sean de Guzman, chief of Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting at the state Department of Water Resources, prepares to insert the long aluminum survey pole into the snow at Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada. Ramesh Gautum, Chief California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, and Lauren Miller, engineer DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, help with the survey. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources)

State water officials say the snowpack near Lake Tahoe is 97% of the historical average for this time of year.  

Sean de Guzman, chief of the California Department of Water Resources' Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, conducted the first manual snow survey of the season Thursday at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada, south of Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County.

It's one of 260 stations that measures snowpack statewide.

De Guzman said the snowpack across the Sierra Nevada is 90% of average for this time of year.

Scientists record snowpack as Snow Water Content, which measures how much water is contained within the snow.

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"That way we know basically how much water will eventually melt during the spring and summer months to refill all of our reservoirs," de Guzman said.

California's water season started off slowly, with little rain in October and early November, but state climatologist Michael Anderson said late-November and December storms were a big help.

DWR tracks snowpack leading up to April first, when the spring runoff typically begins.

Anderson says the weather over the next few months will go a long way in determining how much water will be stored up for the spring and summer.

"We experience fantastic variability here in California, not only year-to-year, but within the year," Anderson said.

"Given that large variability, it's really difficult to say now where we're at versus what the outlook will be when we get to April one."