Sierra Snowpack Measures 97% of Average in Year’s First Survey

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The Sierra snowpack measured 97% of average as of Thursday after the first survey of the year at Phillips Station, according to the Department of Water Resources.

The manual survey recorded 33.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 11 inches, officials said. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack, which provides a more accurate forecast of 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," DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement. "We must remember how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has on our snowpack."

On average, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer, the department said.

Electronic readings from 130 stations across the state indicate the snowpack’s SWE is 9.3 inches, or 90% of the Jan. 2 average, the department said.

California traditionally receives about 75% of its annual precipitation during December, January and February, with the bulk of it coming from atmospheric rivers, officials said.

Climate change is expected to lead to continued warming and fewer but more intense storms impacting the Sierra snowpack, the department said.

The Department of Water Resources conducts five media-oriented snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter in January, February, March, April and, if necessary, May.

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