Mother Nature continues to deliver.
With more than two months left in the wet season, snowfall in the Central Sierra Nevada mountains has already reached 100% of its yearly average with an additional three inches of snow since Sunday, climatologists from UC Berkeley Central Sierra Laboratory announced Monday.
“The depth of the snow that has fallen has effectively eclipsed what we would ordinarily have in a full average year,” lead scientist with the lab, Andrew Schwartz, said to FOX5SanDiego.com. “(We’ve) gotten to that point a couple months ahead of schedule.”
The current season total for this water year, which lasts from Oct. 1 to Sept. 31, is 360 inches, or the equivalent of about 30 feet, according to the lab. The average snowfall in the Central Sierra Nevada mountains is about 360 inches of snow each season.
Despite the weather pattern turning slightly drier since the monster storms that ushered in the new year, snowpack continues to be strong across the state.
Recent data from the California Department of Water Resources shows statewide snow water equivalent is currently about 210% of its normal levels for Jan. 30 and 129% of the April 1 average.
April 1 is when snowpack is typically at its highest, so measurements are compared to the April 1 average, in addition to averages for specific dates along the way.
The Southern Sierra is an impressive 255% of the area’s average, the Central Sierra is 211% and the Northern Sierra/Trinity region is 172%.
“We still have February, which is the main snowpack-producing month,” California’s State Climatologist, Dr. Michael Anderson, said to FOX5SanDiego.com. “The three weeks of extreme storms that we had provided about 80% of the seasonal snowpack — the other additions coming in before those storms.”
The next official measurement at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe is scheduled for Wednesday.
What the snow water equivalent looks like at the beginning of April — when the snow melt season usually begins — will come down to any high temperatures, windy conditions and dry periods over the next couple months.
These conditions could speed up evaporation of the snow, Schwartz said, decreasing the snowpack before the end of the season thus minimizing the impact the snowfall has on the state’s fire risk and water supply during the dry season.
That’s what happened to last year’s snowpack, according to Anderson: December saw extremely high levels of snowfall, but was followed by extremely dry months in January and February that diminished the water content the pack provided.
“The quality of the snowpack by the time we got to April 1 was a significant decrease,” he said of the snowfall during the 2021 to 2022 water year. “So, even though it got a great start, the fact that it ended there and it was dry in January, February, and March — the other three months — you weren’t adding to that snowpack.”
Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains provides about a third of the state’s overall water supply. An increase in premature snow melt or minimal precipitation in the coming months would lessen the amount of water on the ground that’s available for use.
“We’re not completely pulling out of things like drought yet,” Schwartz said.
“Our extreme events are getting more extreme,” he continued. “We’re having longer and more severe dry periods and the storms are becoming wetter when we do get them. So we get these really intense periods followed by prolonged dry periods.”
Despite the fact that this particularly wet winter won’t wipe out California’s drought, it has given some particularly dry areas some short-term relief.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows a large stretch of California’s Central Coast has moved from “moderate” or “severe” drought conditions to “abnormally dry.”
“Getting that much water into the system definitely helped,” Anderson said. “A healthy snowpack would suggest that our spring runoff will be better than it has been during the previous three years of the drought.”
How much precipitation continues to fall over the remaining wet months of this water year, as well as the weather conditions during those months will determine the impact this year’s snowfall has on the drought moving forward.
“These are not necessarily static numbers,” Schwartz said. “We just need the rest of the season to cooperate.”