Drought Fears: Officials Report NorCal Snowpack at 67% of Average

In what has become a ceremonious occasion, Department of Water Resources officials made the trek out to Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada to manually measure the first snow pack numbers of the year. The result? Not very promising. The snowpack measured at just 67 percent of average for this time of year.

The number raise fears of another year of drought in Northern California.

DWR conducts five snow surveys each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and May – at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe.

When the DWR officials dropped the measuring pipe into the snow on Thursday, the results weren’t much of surprise as 260 sensors have been measuring low snowpack levels all winter. But the event served as a public display of concern that we could be heading for another underachieving water year, causing water storage issues in California and, more importantly, creating another dangerous fire season in NorCal.

Lake levels are also proving to be a disappointment, with some of NorCal’s largest reservoirs looking sparse during this time of year. Lake Oroville is just 29 percent of average, a stunning number for the lake that has seen its share of water issues over the past two years. Meanwhile, Shasta Lake is 80 percent of average and Trinity Lake is 89 percent of normal, both low numbers for early-January.

“The last few years have shown how variable California’s climate truly is and what a profound impact climate change has on our water resources,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement. “California’s significant weather variability means we can go from historic drought to record rainfall, with nothing in between. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the extremes, creating additional challenges for maintaining water supply reliability and the need for innovative solutions.”

There are still reasons to stay optimistic. The snowpack numbers are more than double what they were last year, as Northern California mountains didn’t see much snow at all until the later months of February and March in 2018. Also, there are three more wet season months ahead of us, giving hope that January, February and March could snap us out of any drought fears.

More storms are expected to hit Northern California in coming weeks, including some areas seeing up to four feet of snow in just 48 hours. So perform a snow dance and pray that El Nino comes down to give us a precipitous gift. We’re gonna need it…

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