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Continued Below-Average Year for California Snowpack

 

The California wet season got off to a quick start, but then came to a screeching halt.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted the third manual snow survey of 2020 on February 27 at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe.  The manual survey recorded 29 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 11.5 inches, which is 47% of the March average for this location.

“This past February, there actually wasn’t any recorded measurable precip in the northern Sierra on our 8 station index,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section.  “And that’s actually never happened before in its history since 1921.”

To monitor the health of the Sierra snowpack, officials take monthly observations to determine the snow water equivalent or SWE.  The SWE measures the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which is a crucial measurement for forecasting runoff.

“The snowpack is like a reservoir and during the spring months into early summer, we see that snowmelt come into our reservoirs to add additional storage,” said Molly White, chief of DWR’S State Water Project, Water Operations Office.

Current readings statewide put the SWE just below 50% of average, with 2020 on pace to be a below normal year.  This puts the pressure on March and April to catch up as 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland rely on California’s melting snow.

According to the DWR, the state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 92% (Oroville) and 132% (Melones) of their historical averages for this date.  Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 107% of its historical average and sits at 78% of capacity.  DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter in January, February, March, April and, if necessary, May.  On average, the snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer.

About the author
Meredith is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist as designated by the American Meteorological Society.  She was born and raised in Cleveland but has worked from coast to coast covering almost every type of weather.  She's been live out in the field during destructive tropical storms on the Gulf Coast of Florida, raging wildfires in Southern California, and covered the wreckage from tornadoes in t... Load Morehe Great Plains. In 2009, she reported on the damaging hail storm during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and in 2017, the historic California winter storms that produced record rain totals and devastating flash flooding.  Prior to joining WeatherNation, Meredith worked at KEYT/KKFX in Santa Barbara, CA, KOTA-TV in Rapid City, SD, WWSB-TV in Sarasota, FL, and began her career as an intern at WGN-TV in Chicago.  She was Santa Barbara's "Favorite Weathercaster of the Year" in 2016 and the Community Partner of the Year in 2017 for her volunteer work with Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties and awarded with the 2018 Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award. Meredith co-chairs the American Meteorological Society Station Scientist Committee, which focuses on raising greater awareness & outreach when it comes to science education for viewers.  She's also an accomplished reporter, producing weather and science stories including rocket launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the new GOES-16 satellite and it's impacts on weather forecasting.  Meredith's also worked on features that took her paragliding along the coast, white water rafting in Northern California, learning to surf in the Pacific Ocean, and how to be an aerial photographer while flying a single engine plane!

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