frank gerhke

In this file photo, Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys at the California Department of Water Resources, conducts a snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on January 29, 2015.

published on January 3, 2019 - 1:03 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Despite early winter storms, the water content in the Sierra Nevada mountains is below average for this time of year.

Those are the results of the state’s first snow survey of the year, which found the state’s Sierra snowpack at 67 percent of average. At Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe, a manual survey recorded 25.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of nine inches, which is 80 percent of average for that location.

The Department of Water Resources estimate is made using manual surveys as well as electronic snow sensors.

“About two-thirds of California’s annual rainfall occurs December through March. Total precipitation so far this water year, which began October 1, has been below average,” said DWR State Climatologist Michael Anderson. “We still have three wet season months ahead of us, so there’s time for the snowpack to build and improve before it begins to melt, which usually starts happening around April 1.”

Climate change has played a significant role in the state’s hydrology, with rain falling at higher elevations than in the past, according to the Department of Water Resources.

“The last few years have shown how variable California’s climate truly is and what a profound impact climate change has on our water resources,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “California’s significant weather variability means we can go from historic drought to record rainfall, with nothing in between. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the extremes, creating additional challenges for maintaining water supply reliability and the need for innovative solutions.”

The Department of Water Resources conducts five snow monthly surveys each winter through May.

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