California Snowpack Below Average – For Now

From left, John Paasch (California Department of Water Resources, Chief of Flood Operations), and Frank Gehrke (California Department of Water Resources, Chief of Snow Surveys) conduct a manual snow survey Jan. 3 at Phillips Station, CA, just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento. (Photo credit: Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources)
From left, John Paasch, California Department of Water Resources, Chief of Flood Operations, and Frank Gehrke, California Department of Water Resources, Chief of Snow Surveys, conduct a manual snow survey Jan. 3 at Phillips Station, CA, just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento. (Photo credit: Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources)

Tuesday’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) manual snow survey was disappointing, with a water content of about half the average for this time of year, but state officials remain optimistic as a series of storms are expected to dump several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the next week.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, took the measurement at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada range, and found a snow water equivalence of 6 inches. That’s 5.3 inches less than the average early-January snow water equivalence of 11.3 inches as measured at Phillips since 1964.

Snow water equivalence is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously. That measurement is more important than depth in evaluating the status of the snowpack.

More telling than a survey at a single location, however, are DWR’s electronic readings Tuesday from 105 stations scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada. Measurements indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 7.2 inches, 68% of the multi-decade average for the date. The central and southern Sierra readings are 7.4 inches (65% of average) and 6.6 inches (73% of average) respectively. Statewide, the snowpack holds 7.2 inches of water equivalent, or 70% of the Jan. 3 average.

But even more important, Gehrke emphasized forecasters predict a series of wet cold storms stretching into next week. “That’s going to bolster the snowpack,” he said. “I can see us being potentially at average once that series of storms moves through. I think it’s a very encouraging start to the winter, and certainly we’ve had other winters when (Phillips) has been basically a bare field.”

In addition, January and February are two of California’s three historically wettest months, which means the readings taken today at Phillips during the winter’s first snow survey – a traditional show for TV cameras – are a key starting point of information but don’t shed much light on how wet the wet season ultimately will be.

The Phillips snow course, which is near the intersection of Highway 50 and Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, is one of hundreds that will be surveyed manually throughout the winter. Manual measurements augment the electronic readings from about 100 snow pillows in the Sierra Nevada that provide a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack.

State Climatologist Mike Anderson said about half of California’s annual rainfall occurs in December, January, and February and about two-thirds of the annual total arrives during December through March. Total precipitation so far this water year, which began Oct. 1, has been above average, but warm temperatures during storm events have tended to cause precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in many mountain locations.

“We still have three historically wet months ahead of us,” Anderson said, “so there’s still time for the snowpack to build and improve before it begins to melt, which usually starts happening around April 1.”

Acting DWR Director Bill Croyle said above-average precipitation since the start of Water Year 2017 in October added significantly to storage in 154 reservoirs tracked by the department. Croyle said DWR has estimated total storage at the end of December at 21.5 million acre-feet (MAF), 98% of the reservoirs’ historical average of 21.9 MAF on Dec. 31.

Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, now holds 118% of its historical average. One year ago, Shasta’s storage was just 50% of its average. Similarly, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s largest reservoir, holds much more water today than a year ago – 91% of its historical average compared to just 47% one year ago.

“Precipitation and storage are doing quite well compared to the past 5 years of historic drought conditions,” Croyle said, “and that makes us cautiously optimistic about water conditions, although some areas in California are still hit hard by the drought and require a response. The snowpack is clearly lagging below its early-January average, but we have many more snow courses to measure this winter before we’ll know whether this water year has had a significant positive effect on the drought.”

DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April, and May – at the Phillips Station plot. On average, the snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

The snow surveys have been getting extra attention since Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a drought State of Emergency in January 2014. There was no snow to survey at Phillips Station that month, and Brown directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. California has experienced five consecutive water years of drought conditions and is three months into a possible sixth consecutive year.

Topics: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “California Snowpack Below Average – For Now

  1. Thank you, David Eddy, for an article packed with solid information.

    I found your article after reading another number-packed one which didn’t allow any solid conclusions from the numbers — they were in varying dimensions and could not be compared (e.g. approximately half of normal snowpack now vs. four to five feet of snowfall predicted this weekend.) The only conclusion apparent in the other article was THE DROUGHT IS GETTING MUCH WORSE!!!

    I know: I’m complaining about another (unnamed) reporter, but the other article really caused me to appreciate yours. It could have been (slightly) better, however.
    1) A prediction of the expected snowfall at Phillips station this weekend (through January 8, 2017), in inches water equivalence, would have been nice.

    Almost perfect, Mr. Eddy! Almost perfect.

Farm Management Stories
GenNext Growers
November 12, 2017
USDA to Fund Research on Next Generation of Agriculture Technology
Engineering, production projects are designed to spur farming innovation. Read More
Citrus
November 7, 2017
Comments Sought in Ag Water Component of FSMA
Growers and other interested parties are encouraged by United Fresh to weigh in on agricultural water requirements in the Food Safety Modernization Act. Read More
Citrus stew courtesy of Irma
Citrus
November 6, 2017
South Florida Wringing out From Record-Setting Wet Season
Tropical torrents, along with a persistent precipitation pattern, helps break 70-year high-water mark. Read More
Have fun with your promotion of local products
Farm Management
November 3, 2017
7 Food Trends on the Front Burner for 2018
From bug buffets to backyard chickens, UF/IFAS experts cook up predictions for the coming year. Read More
Brittany Lee of Florida Blue Farms
Farm Management
November 2, 2017
Sustainable Practices Make Perfect for Florida Farmers
Industry leadership award honorees stand out in setting new standards through innovative technology and BMPs. Read More
Citrus
November 1, 2017
Produce Industry Leaders Concerned About H-2C Amendments
It’s been a long time since significant immigration reform that will help American growers has passed Congress. The most promising Read More
Farm Management
October 31, 2017
Is the Robotic Revolution Coming to Farming?
At PrecisionAg Vision Conference, attendees hear it’s not about just a pile of unwieldy maps any more. Read More
Joseph Lowell Loadholtz
Citrus
October 30, 2017
Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Makes Room for Four More
Outstanding lifetime achievers in the state’s farming sector join elite list of honorees. Read More
Food Safety
October 29, 2017
FDA Hosts New Web Page for Key FSMA Dates
Dates of compliance are listed in order of when they should be followed. Read More
Farm Management
October 26, 2017
USDA to Help California Farmers Affected by Wildfires
Funds allocated to help with recovery projects such as replanting and restoration as well as honeybee loss. Read More
Citrus
October 25, 2017
After a Delay, H-2C Is Getting a Committee Review
The Ag Worker Act must make it past the Judiciary Committee to have a chance of making it to the House floor. Read More
Immokalee< FL, Farm and Grove aerial view
Business Planning
October 25, 2017
Matchmaking Made Easy for Land Owners and Seekers
New website provides revenue potential for property holders. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
Fruits
October 24, 2017
Study: Consumers Confused by Food Label Language
Researchers find ‘organic’ and ‘non-GM’ terms are thought as one in the same. Read More
IFTA grand rapids tour bus
Citrus
October 23, 2017
What NOAA is Expecting Winter 2018 to Look Like
Looming La Niña could mean colder and wetter than normal in the northern U.S. and drier than usual in the south. Read More
GenNext Growers
October 21, 2017
Young Grower Alliance to Host Tour
Young growers will see farm marketing, diversified plantings, hard cider varieties, and more. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
November 17, 2017
Sustainable Farming Projects in Florida …
St. Johns River Water Management District grants backing to 12 on-farm plans aimed at resource conservation and nutrient reduction. Read More
Farm Management
November 17, 2017
Consumers Forking out Less This Year for…
Annual American Farm Bureau average price report reveals you can host a fine Turkey Day feast for less than $50. Read More
Citrus
November 6, 2017
South Florida Wringing out From Record-S…
Tropical torrents, along with a persistent precipitation pattern, helps break 70-year high-water mark. Read More
Farm Management
November 3, 2017
7 Food Trends on the Front Burner for 20…
From bug buffets to backyard chickens, UF/IFAS experts cook up predictions for the coming year. Read More
Farm Management
November 2, 2017
Sustainable Practices Make Perfect for F…
Industry leadership award honorees stand out in setting new standards through innovative technology and BMPs. Read More
Citrus
November 1, 2017
Produce Industry Leaders Concerned About…
It’s been a long time since significant immigration reform that will help American growers has passed Congress. The most promising Read More
Farm Management
October 31, 2017
Is the Robotic Revolution Coming to Farm…
At PrecisionAg Vision Conference, attendees hear it’s not about just a pile of unwieldy maps any more. Read More
Citrus
October 30, 2017
Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Makes …
Outstanding lifetime achievers in the state’s farming sector join elite list of honorees. Read More
Farm Management
October 26, 2017
USDA to Help California Farmers Affected…
Funds allocated to help with recovery projects such as replanting and restoration as well as honeybee loss. Read More
Citrus
October 25, 2017
After a Delay, H-2C Is Getting a Committ…
The Ag Worker Act must make it past the Judiciary Committee to have a chance of making it to the House floor. Read More
Citrus
October 23, 2017
What NOAA is Expecting Winter 2018 to Lo…
Looming La Niña could mean colder and wetter than normal in the northern U.S. and drier than usual in the south. Read More
Citrus
October 20, 2017
Is Your Orange Juice Glass Half Empty or…
There is strong-willed — some might even say stubborn — blood flowing through the veins of Florida growers. Read More
Citrus
October 19, 2017
Disaster Relief: Ways Florida Growers Ca…
With billions of dollars lost to Irma, financial assistance will be crucial for many. Read More
Citrus
October 18, 2017
How to Keep Track of Climate Change
Use cool tools to find out how your production methods may change in the future, how much your area is at risk, and how to limit your own impact on the climate. Read More
Citrus
October 17, 2017
USDA Issues Disaster Declaration for Hur…
Operators in designated counties eligible for emergency assistance. Read More
Citrus
October 16, 2017
Wrath of Hurricane Irma’s Rainfall…
Report says storm dropped enough gallons of water on Florida’s St. Johns River Water Management District to swamp 6.7 million football fields. Read More
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the F…
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Farm Management
October 6, 2017
California Small Farm Conference Celebra…
Conference will be held October Oct. 29 - 30 in Stockton, CA. Read More