California Snowpack Falls to an Abysmal 8 Percent of Historical Average

Photo of Lake Oroville during the drought of 2014. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

The drought continues to get worse in California with wildfires on the rise and water storage dwindling. In the month of May, snowpack is typically the greatest indicator of drought in the state, and if that’s the case, we’re in big trouble.

Sierra Nevada snowpack throughout the state has dropped to an abysmal 8 percent of historical average, with legitimate concerns that all the snow could be gone by the end of the month. With the entire western United States experiencing some semblance of a drought, Northern California is certainly leading the charge.

Climate expert Daniel Swain recently got into detail about the lack of snowpack on his blog WeatherWest.com:

“Because soils underneath the snowpack have been so parched, and the air above the snowpack so dry, the majority of the snowpack we *did* have this year has either soaked into the soil (without runoff) or even sublimated directly back into the atmosphere,” Swain wrote. “This means that streamflows are even lower than would otherwise have been expected in this very low precipitation year, and reservoirs will see very little further recharge for the rest of spring and summer.”

Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a drought emergency declaration in 41 counties in the state, which alerts the State Water Board to alter water storage requirements in reservoirs in order conserve water, improve water quality and protect salmon and steelhead habitats. The areas listed in the drought are Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties. 

On top of ongoing water concerns, the lack of snow and precipitation could bring another devastating wildfire season to the region. Cal Fire reported that 13,604 acres have burned from 1,788 wildfires throughout the state in 2021. At this point in 2020, only 1,726 acres had burned. The significant increase could be a scary sign of a devastating fire season to come.

With California seeing its third driest precipitation year in recorded history, following multiple dry years, wildfire could make a significant impact on the region this year. Cal Fire is calling for residents to begin preparing for the threat of fire in their area. Here are their recommendations to be prepared for wildfire:

  1. CREATE YOUR DEFENSIBLE SPACE – Create and maintain 100 feet of Defensible Space around your home
  2. HARDEN YOUR HOME – Use ember-resistant building materials to protect your home
  3. GET YOUR KIT READY NOW – Create your own emergency supply kit
  4. CREATE YOUR OWN WILDFIRE ACTION PLAN – Develop your family communication and evacuation plans
  5. PREPARE NOW! – Wildfire Danger is High! Prepare your Family Now.
  6. READY, SET, GO! CAMPAIGN – Access and request campaign materials and graphics

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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