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The Snowpack In The Sierra Is Down – But Don't Panic

Sean de Guzman (right), of the California Department of Water Resources, inserts a snow depth survey pole into the snow at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources)
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California's water year is off to a (relatively) dry start.

Officials with the California Department of Water Resources today snowshoed their way up to Phillips Station near South Lake Tahoe to conduct their second snowpack survey of 2020.

Those measurements are crucial to determining how water supplies will fare in the year ahead, since melted snow accounts for about 30% of California's fresh water.

They measured 40.5 inches of snow – which is 79 percent of normal for this time of year.

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It's a far cry from the wet year we had in 2019, when snowpack levels peaked at 153% above average – but it's too soon to tell if we're heading for another drought.

"Honestly [these are] actually decent conditions," said Sean de Guzman, director of the snow survey for the DWR. "It's still below average, but we're nowhere near where we were during that period between 2012 through 2015," when the state was in one of its most dire drought conditions.

Last year's water bonanza was aided in part thanks to a series of atmospheric rivers, including a handful that rolled through Southern California.

But we may not be able to count on a repeat this year. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is currently projecting a hotter, drier spring ahead for California, though de Guzman added that seasonal outlooks are hard to predict.

"We still have to wait and see what the next few months will bring us."