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California Officials Measure One of the Highest Snowpacks in 40 years

Winter storms have given California’s snowpack a much-needed boost, in a promising sign for the ongoing severe drought.

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A coat of fresh snow is seen on a mountain the morning after a winter storm pelted the region with a large amount of snow, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023
A coat of fresh snow is seen on a mountain the morning after a winter storm pelted the region with a large amount of snow, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023
Photo: Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle (AP)

State officials say California currently has one the best snowpack levels covering its mountain ranges in four decades, the Associated Press reported.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted the first manual snowpack survey of the year this week at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. They found 55.5 inches of snow depth, which is 177% higher than average for the location, according to a statement from the department.

Some of the recent snowpack came from a storm that blew over the state this past week, sparking widespread flooding and dropping several inches of snow on California mountain ranges. According to the Department of Water Resources, the recent storm and some December snowfall has increased snowpack to 174% above average for this time of the year statewide.

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But can these storms alleviate the ongoing megadrought out West and the dry conditions that were predicted for the state this winter? It may be too early to say. Snowfall in early 2022 highlighted that a decent start to the year doesn’t mean that the snow will stick around, so officials are tentatively excited for now.

“Big snow totals are always welcome, but we still have a long way to go before the critical April 1 total,” Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman said in the department’s press release. “It’s always great to be above average this early in the season, but we must be resilient and remember what happened last year. 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.”

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Back in December 2021, a snowstorm dropped almost 17 feet of snow over the Sierra Nevada mountains. But by March 2022, officials found only 2.5 inches of snow at the Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. The average snow depth for the end of the season in that area is supposed to be 5 feet, according to the water resources department. Snow levels throughout the state were only 38% of what they should have been at that time of year. Low snow levels mean there won’t be a boost of meltwater to feed into California’s rivers and reservoirs.

The next snowpack survey is scheduled for the beginning of February.

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California’s Snowpack Gets a Much Needed Boost | Extreme Earth