SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS, Calif. (KRON) — Will this winter’s atmospheric river-powered rain and snow storms finally bring an end to California’s drought? State water officials are far from optimistic, especially after witnessing last winter’s flop.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted its first snow survey of 2023 on Tuesday by measuring water content in the snowpack — a key indicator of California’s water supply.

Water scientists recorded 55.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 17.5 inches. That’s 177 percent of average for the Phillips Station location. Statewide the snowpack is 174 percent of average for this date, water officials reported.

snow survey 2023
Water scientists measure the snowpack on Jan. 3, 2023. (Image by Calif. Department of Water Resources)

DWR spokeswoman Sabrina Washington said, “Of course all of the rain that we’ve gotten over the last week or so has left a really good blanket of snow. But … this is exactly what happened last year. We had a really strong showing at the beginning of the season and then went on to have the driest January through March on record.”

The next big storm will hit the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday morning.

The Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water. Its natural ability to store water is why the Sierra snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir.”

DWR Director Karla Nemeth and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman stressed how critically important the remaining winter months are for the state’s water supply.

“The significant Sierra snowpack is good news but unfortunately these same storms are bringing flooding to parts of California,” Nemeth said. “This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate.”

California is expected to see continued rain and snow over the next seven days.

Even more telling than a survey at a single location are DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout the state.

Measurements indicate that statewide, the snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 17.1 inches, or 174 percent of average for this date. This January’s results are similar to results in 2013 and 2022 when the January 1 snowpack was at or above average conditions, only for dry weather to set in and lead to drought conditions by the end of the water year.

Fluffy snow is seen in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3, 2023. (Image courtesy DWR)

“Big snow totals are always welcome, but we still have a long way to go before the critical April 1 total,” Guzman said. “If January through March of 2023 turn out to be similar to last year, we would still end the water year in severe drought with only half of an average year’s snowpack.”