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California snowpack doubled its average for February, new snow survey finds

By Amy Larson,


SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS, Calif. (KRON) — California’s snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is nearly double its average depth, state water officials discovered during the second snow survey of the season.

After nine back-to-back winter storms, deep snow blanketed a meadow where California Department of Water Resources officials measured water content and snow depth Wednesday.

RELATED: Sierra Nevada snowpack already far ‘above’ normal water, experts say

The manual survey at Phillips Station recorded 85.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 33.5 inches, which is 193 percent of average for February 1. Statewide, the snowpack is 205 percent of average for this date.

The snowpack received a significant boost from one of the wettest three-week periods on record in California.
Sean de Guzman, Manager of the CDWR Water Supply Forecasting Unit, inserts an aluminum snow depth survey pole into snow on Feb. 1, 2023. (Photo by Kenneth James / California Department of Water Resources)

“California has always experienced some degree of swings between wet and dry, but the past few months have demonstrated how much more extreme those swings are becoming,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “While today’s results are good news for water supplies, we know from experience how quickly snowpack can disappear if dry conditions return in the months ahead.”

Two months remain until April 1, when the state snowpack usually peaks.

DWR’s electronic readings from 130 snow sensors placed throughout the state indicate the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 33.7 inches, or 205 percent of average for this date. Those results are currently outpacing the record 1982-83 season. If California returns to dry conditions and the next two months lack additional precipitation, like what the state experienced last season, a significant early snowpack can disappear.

Periodic rain and snow over the next several months will be key to get the biggest water supply benefit from the state’s snowpack, state water officials said.
After nine back-to-back winter storms, deep snow blankets a meadow at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Feb. 1, 2023. (Photo by Kenneth James / CDWR)

On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs and is an important factor in determining how DWR manages the state’s water resources. Its natural ability to store water is why the Sierra snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir.”

Water managers walk a fine line between water supply and flood control, said DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman. “As we move into the snowmelt season in the spring, water managers will work to manage flood risk and optimize the snowpack’s water supply benefits during peak demands in the summer,” Guzman said.

Wednesday’s snow survey was held approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento off Highway 50 in El Dorado County.

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