Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sierra Nevada snowpack levels are greater than a year ago

Matt Stevens in the Los Angeles Times: Measurements of Sierra Nevada snowpack on Tuesday showed more snow than surveyors recorded a year ago. But state water officials said it was far from enough to signal a potential end to California's continuing drought.

"Although this year's survey shows a deeper snowpack than last year, California needs much more rain and snow than we've experienced over the past two years to end the drought," Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said.

Snowpack accounts for about a third of the state's water supply when it melts in the late spring and summer and replenishes reservoirs. Another year of reduced snowpack levels leaves water officials worried that agricultural areas could face another difficult, dry year in 2015.

At Phillips Station snow course, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, surveys on Tuesday found about 21.3 inches of snow. If melted, the amount of snow in that area would contain about 4 inches of water, the Department of Water Resources said. Last year, only 9.3 inches of snow covered the ground, or about 2.3 inches of water, according to state data. On average, though, Jan. 1 snowpack water content there is about triple Tuesday's reading.

The snowpack is constantly monitored by electronic sensors at about 100 points across the Sierra. Manual checks like Tuesday's will be conducted once a month through the beginning of May to supplement and verify the electronic readings, DWR officials said.

Tuesday's manual readings of about 33% of average were less than electronic readings had generated. Electronic readings estimated that snowpack statewide was as much as 50% of normal.

An 1868 photo by Andrew J. Russell of Donner Lake in the snow

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