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After a Dry January, California Snowpack is Trending Below Normal

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Sean de Guzman (right), chief of California Department of Water Resources, Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, inserts a survey pole into the snow during the second media snow survey of the year at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on January 30, 2020.  (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources)

State water officials say the snowpack near Lake Tahoe is 79 percent of the historical average for this time of year.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted the second monthly snow survey of the year Thursday morning at Phillips Station snow course in the Sierra Nevada, south of Lake Tahoe.

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

Snowpack across the state is averaging 72 percent of what’s normal for the start of February.

DWR’s Jan. 2 snow survey tracked the Sierra snowpack at close to average for the beginning of the year. But California experienced a dry January that slowed the accumulation of snowpack.

“In comparison to where we were just a month ago … snow and precipitation statewide were well below average,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section.

Scientists record snowpack as Snow Water Equivalent (also known as Snow Water Content); it measures how much water the snow contains. They record the depth in inches that would be produced by melting the snow.

The data helps scientists determine how much water will melt during the spring and summer months to replenish California’s reservoirs. The runoff of melting Sierra snow provides about one-third of California’s water supply.

Despite this month’s below average snowpack measurements, de Guzman says the water supply in California’s reservoirs is currently in good shape.

“Luckily, our reservoirs statewide are either at or above their historical averages for this time of year thanks, in part, to just how wet of a water year 2019 was,” de Guzman said.

California typically receives about half of its annual precipitation in the months of December, January and February. De Guzman says a few big storms could bring the state’s snowpack back on track for 2020.

“We still need to wait and see what the next few months will bring us,” he said.

Water officials will continue to monitor snowpack through April 1, when it typically reaches its peak and the spring runoff begins.


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