Sierra Snowpack Measurements Above Average in First Survey

The first snowpack survey of 2020 by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) at Phillips Station provided encouraging news. The manual survey recorded 33.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 11 inches, which is 97 percent of average for this location.

“While the series of cold weather storms in November and December has provided a good start to the 2020 snowpack, precipitation in Northern California is still below average for this time of year,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We must remember how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has on our snowpack.”

While promising, electronic readings from 130 stations scattered throughout the State provide a better overall picture of the amount of snowpack than a single manual reading and that news is positive too. DWR’s measurements indicate that statewide, the snowpack’s SWE is 9.3 inches, or 90 percent of the January 2 average.

“It’s still too early to predict what the remainder of the year will bring in terms of snowpack,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “Climate change is altering the balance of rain and snow in California. That is why it is important to maintain our measurements of the snowpack to document the change in addition to having critical information to forecast spring runoff.”

California traditionally receives about 75 percent of its annual precipitation during December, January and February, with the bulk of this precipitation coming from atmospheric rivers. Similar to last year, California experienced a dry start to this water year followed by cold, wet December storms that brought the state up to 74 percent of average annual precipitation for this time of year. On average, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer.

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