Why California's 'Epic Start' For The Snowpack Isn't Enough (Yet) To Fix The State's Dwindling Water Supplies
In recent years, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas has been sparse, which has put pressure on our water supplies.
After storms this month, the snowpack in the mountains has jumped from 16% to about 160% of normal in some regions. Meteorologists define “normal” as an average of the precipitation levels on a specific date over a 30-year period.
There's been so much snow so far in December that meteorologists have called it an "epic start" for the water year. With more than 200 inches already fallen, California set a new record for snowfall for a December and recorded the third snowiest month since 1970.
8" (~20cm) of #snow over the last 24 hours at our 8am measurement. That brings our December total to 210" (~533cm) and our season total to 264" (~671cm).— UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab (@UCB_CSSL) December 29, 2021
We are now at 258% of our avg snowpack through this date and we have received 70% of our avg annual snowfall.#CAwx #CAwater pic.twitter.com/5jsydTGJ1Y
That’s good news as California deals with the impacts of the climate emergency, like prolonged drought that has shrunk reservoirs to historic lows. And meteorologists say even more snow is forecast.
The epic start to the 2022 Water Year continues for the @CA_DWR Northern Sierra 8 Station Index, surpassing the entire 2021 WY (3rd driest on record) in just 84 days! Another positive, recent storms have been relatively cold, building that #SierraNevada snowpack. #CAwx #CAwater pic.twitter.com/QiSRWzuyd7— NWS California-Nevada RFC (@NWSCNRFC) December 26, 2021
Though California’s drought is far from over, the wet weather this month is a boost to the state's water deficit.
Snowpack is a critical source of water for California. In a good year, it provides about 30% of the state’s fresh water supply. In the spring and summer, the snow will melt and eventually end up in state reservoirs.
While California’s climate has long fluctuated between drought and deluge, the climate emergency has exacerbated that cycle. Now we’re experiencing fewer wet years, and dry years that are even drier and hotter.
After the lack of snow the last two years, we need a much-better-than-average snow dump this year to get reservoirs to normal levels.