Sierra Snowpack Grows to Nearly Double Normal, Easing California Drought

Deep snow in Sierra Nevada
A drone view of deep snow near the Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada where the official snow survey was performed on Friday. Courtesy Kenneth James / California Department of Water Resources

Record rain and snowfall in recent weeks has eased half of California out of a persistent drought and bolstered the store of mountain snow that the state relies on to provide water during the spring and summer.

There is nearly twice as much snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as is typical for March 3, the California Department of Water Resources reported Friday after its monthly survey. Levels range from 209% in the south to 175% in the central Sierra and 136% in the north.

The snowpack is considered California’s largest reservoir, and is vital to fill streams and lakes as it slowly melts.

“We could not be more fortunate to have this kind of precipitation after three very punishing years of dry and drought conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth.

“The recent storms combined with the January atmospheric rivers have contributed to an above-average snowpack that will help fill some of the state’s reservoirs and maximize groundwater recharge efforts,” she said.

The record precipitation and accompanying powerful storms in December and February have also dramatically lessened California’s ongoing drought, a team of federal agencies reported this week.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and cooperating agencies showed that 17% of California was not experiencing any sort of abnormal dryness, while another third was dry but no longer officially in a state of drought.

By contrast, just three months ago the entire state was considered to be experiencing drought conditions. California has cycled through four periods of drought since 2000, making less water available to irrigate crops and sustain wildlife along with meeting the needs of the state’s 40 million residents.

With one month remaining in the state’s traditional wet season, DWR officials said Friday they are hoping for still more rain.

“We are hopeful that we will see more cold storms to add to our snowpack for the next month and help set up a long, slow melt period into spring,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit,

More rain would also help replenish groundwater basins that have been depleted due to prolonged drought.

The next snow survey is tentatively scheduled for April 3.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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