First snow survey fails to find El Nino
Despite months of El Nino warnings and healthy storms over the past weekend, California’s first snow survey of the winter found lower than normal levels Tuesday at most Sierra points.
The first measurements of the season by the California Cooperative Snow Survey showed the snowpack at about three-fourths the long-term average in the American River drainage.
Automated readings Tuesday in the Tahoe Basin by the federal Natural Resource Conservation Services closely matched California’s manual measurements. Season precipitation in the basin has been just two-thirds of the average, while current water content of the snowpack is three-fourths of the long-term average.
Jeff Cohen, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, said the below-normal snow depths were neither a surprise nor a cause for concern, since most of the Sierra snow season still lies ahead.
And weather experts always expected El Nino to have more effect on Southern California, which has had some heavy rains already, than on the Sierras and other portions of Northern California, where the state’s biggest reservoirs are located.
”El Nino storms move from the south to north, so their impact declines as they track north. We don’t expect much impact above the Tehachapis, so we don’t expect El Nino to have much effect on the federal or state (water) supplies,” he said.
Cohen said the Sierra watershed south of Yosemite is at about 90 percent of average with a few locations above 100 percent, while central and northern Sierra measuring stations are at 60 to 80 percent of normal.
He said Tuesday’s measurement at Phillip’s Station, at 6,800 feet elevation near Echo Summit, was 40.1 inches of snow with a water content equal to 9.3 inches of rain, which is 78 percent of normal for the first January survey.
At Tamarack Flat, at 6,550 feet, snow depth was 43.7 inches, and at Darrington at 7,100 feet, snow depth was 45.6 inches, for 75 and 76 percent of average respectively, he said.
”This is the first snow survey of the winter and it’s not indicative of the future performance of Mother Nature. We get our heaviest snow in January and February, and those storms can make up the difference pretty fast,” Cohen said.
”This looks like the routine pattern. We expect average or above average snowfall for the season, and it’s tracking in that direction,” he added, noting forecasts for more storms from the north in the next few days.
Cohen added that carryover storage in both state and federal reservoirs is at average levels, so there is no cause for alarm for a water shortage from slightly lower than average snow depths in the first monthly survey.
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