First survey of 2020 shows snowpack slightly below average
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The first manual snow survey of 2020 showed California is right about average for the time of year.
The Department of Water Resources performed the survey Thursday, Jan. 2, at Phillips Station, near Sierra-at-Tahoe, and showed the snowpack is 97% of normal. The pack has a depth of 33.5 inches and snow water equivalent of 11 inches.
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,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in a press release. “We must remember how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has on our snowpack.”
DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations throughout California, which give more information, indicate snowpack’s SWE is 9.3 inches or 90% above the Jan. 2 average statewide.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
The bulk of California’s annual precipitation is received in Jan., Feb. and Dec. and mostly comes from atmospheric rivers.
This year, the water year started slow but was followed by a cold, wet Dec. which brought the state up to 74% of the 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.