California's Sierra Nevada snowpack is below normal for spring and the water content around the state is only about half the April average, as much of California struggles under persistent drought, authorities said Wednesday.
A manual survey of snow in the range east of Sacramento found the water contained in the snowpack was equal to 16.5 inches, or about 66% of the April average for that location.
Statewide, measurements from 130 electronic snow sensors showed a water equivalent of 15.2 inches, or 53% of the April average, the Department of Water Resources said in a statement.
However, the National Weather Service said a pair of storms moving in over the weekend could bring more snow to the Sierras.
Sierra snowmelt normally provides about 30% of the state's water supply. Water managers point to the April 1 numbers because that is when the snowpack is typically at its peak.
The results, though better than February's finding, “still underscore the need for widespread, wise use of our water supplies," water resources Director Karla Nemeth said. “California’s climate continues to show extreme unpredictability, and February’s record dryness is a clear example of the extremes associated with climate change.”
January measurements of the snow water content also were below average for the season.
“Over the last decade, California’s snowpack has been alternating between extremely wet and extremely dry,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of the department's Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast Section. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen three of our smallest snowpacks on record, but we’ve also seen three of our largest snowpacks on record.”
California reservoirs are in good shape, with the six largest holding between 82% and 125% of their historical averages for the date, according to the department.
Drought persists in the northern and central two-thirds of the state, according to a recent map from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
About 75% of California’s annual precipitation occurs from December through February, mostly from atmospheric rivers that are long plumes of moisture originating far out in the Pacific Ocean.
Annual precipitation is tallied during a “water year” that runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The current water year got off to a slow start with a dry October and early November before December came in about average.