After nine atmospheric rivers hit California between late December and through much of January, the state’s snowpack levels have soared.
Researchers at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe recorded a snow depth of 85.5 inches on Wednesday — that’s almost double the average of what’s typically recorded there in February. They also found that the statewide snowpack is 205% higher than the average for this time of year.
This is good news for California, especially after recent years of dismal snowpack levels. Sean de Guzman, manager of the snow surveys program for California’s Department of Water Resources, said these high snowpack levels could help the state recuperate from its ongoing drought.
“We're actually currently outpacing 1980 to 1983, which is the wettest year on record, dating back about 40 years,” he said.
During last month’s snow survey — which was taken on Jan. 3, several days into the series of back-to-back storms that pummeled California for weeks — researchers recorded snowpack levels that were 174% higher than the average for early January.
But California is not in the clear. He said the state needs consistent precipitation throughout the winter to make sure that it doesn’t return to drier conditions.
“California really just experienced the wettest three week period, followed by the driest three years in the state's recorded history,” de Guzman said.
Typically, California snowpack levels peak in April. But DWR Director Karla Nemeth said this timeline has begun to change in recent years. Although January saw more precipitation than usual thanks to these back-to-back storms, she said the weather since then has dried out.
“This is a traditional wet month that is actually starting off pretty dry, and given where the forecasts are, that dryness is expected to continue,” she said. “We really don't know here on February 1st whether or not this is the peak of our snowpack.”
She said the state is readying itself to take advantage of excess snowmelt, which is likely, given the high snowpack levels. This means getting the water from snowmelt into reservoirs and groundwater basins, which could help the state’s overall drought recovery.
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