December Storms Provide Good Start to Sierra Snowpack

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

The state's water management department, the Department of Water Resources, said late last week that the Sierra snowpack is at about 90 percent of normal on average for the date; a decent result for the first snowpack survey of the season.

According to DWR,"...DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations scattered throughout the state... indicate that statewide, the snowpack’s water content is about 90 percent of the Jan. 2 average.

“It’s still too early to predict what the remainder of the year will bring in terms of snowpack,” said Sean DeGuzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “Climate change is altering the balance of rain and snow in California. That is why it is important to maintain our measurements of the snowpack to document the change in addition to having critical information to forecast spring runoff.”

“While the series of cold weather storms in November and December has provided a good start to the 2020 snowpack, precipitation in Northern California is still below average for this time of year,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We must remember how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has on our snowpack.”

California traditionally receives about 75 percent of its annual precipitation during December, January and February, with the bulk of this precipitation coming from atmospheric rivers. Similar to last year, California experienced a dry start to this water year followed by cold, wet December storms that brought the state up to 74 percent of average annual precipitation for this time of year. Climate change is expected to lead to continued warming and fewer but more intense storms impacting the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada. These changes continue to impact the distribution of snow across elevations, its pattern of accumulation, and rate of melt.

DWR conducts surveys, manual and remote, each winter in January, February, March, April and, if necessary, May. On average, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer, DWR said.