(KRON) — A 40-year record was shattered this winter and the California Department of Water Resources conducted its fourth snow survey of the season in the Sierra Nevada mountains Monday.
Water scientists’ manual survey at Phillips Station recorded a snow depth of 126.5 inches, with a snow water equivalent of 54 inches. That’s 221 percent of average for this location, state water officials said.
The critical Northern Sierra snowpack, home the state’s largest surface water reservoirs, is currently at 192 percent of its April average, according to CDWR. The Southern Sierra snowpack is at a mind-blowing 300 percent of average, and the Central Sierra is 237 percent of average.
Results from the CDWR’s statewide snow sensor network are higher than any other readings since the network was established in the mid-1980s.
“This year’s result will go down as one of the largest snowpack years on record in California,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit.
Only 1952, 1969, and 1983 recorded statewide results above 200 percent of the April 1 average.
The survey’s “snow water equivalent” measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack. DWR’s electronic readings from 130 snow sensors placed throughout the state indicate the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 61.1 inches, or 237 percent of average for April.
“California’s climate is becoming more extreme,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “After the driest three years on record, and devastating drought impacts to communities across the state, DWR has rapidly shifted to flood response and forecasting for the upcoming snowmelt.”
State water officials said, just as the drought years demonstrated that California’s water system is facing new climate challenges, this winter is showing how the state’s flood infrastructure will continue to face climate-driven challenges for moving and storing as much water as possible.
The size and distribution of this year’s snowpack is posing severe flood risk this spring in some areas of the state, especially in the San Joaquin Valley. DWR’s State-Federal Flood Operations Center is supporting emergency response in the Tulare Lake Basin and Lower San Joaquin River by providing flood fight specialists to support ongoing flood response activities and by providing longer-term advanced planning activities. The FOC and DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit are helping local agencies plan for the spring snowmelt season by providing hydraulic and hydrologic modeling and snowmelt forecasts.
Governor Newsom rolled back some drought emergency provisions that are no longer needed due to improved water conditions, while maintaining other measures that continue building up long-term water resilience.
While winter storms have helped the snowpack and reservoirs, groundwater basins are much slower to recover, state officials said. Many rural areas are still experiencing water supply challenges, especially communities that rely on groundwater supplies which have been depleted due to prolonged drought.
DWR conducts five snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April. Given the size of this year’s snowpack, and more snow in the forecast, DWR anticipates conducting a May snow survey at Phillips Station on May 1.