California Snowpack Levels Reaching Record Highs
California's snowpack is currently at astounding levels, with the statewide average for snowpack across all sites standing at 45 inches as of Friday — 190% of the normal for the date and 171% of the April 1 average. In certain areas of the Sierra, snowpack levels are even expected to exceed those of the 1982-1983 season – the highest winter in the modern era.
The recent deluges have dramatically improved California’s drought conditions, with less than half of the state in at least moderate drought conditions, down from 85% last week according to a weekly update from the U.S. Drought Monitor. The heavy rains and snow have improved soil moisture and streamflow levels, while the snow has increased mountain snowpack to much above-normal levels.
At Phillips Station off Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe, the state Department of Water Resources measured a snow depth of 116.5 inches and a snow water equivalent of 41.5 inches, which is 170% of what they typically expect to see by April 1. The area is still under a freeze warning for overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, with temperatures ranging from the upper 20s in outlying areas and low 30s in urban areas such as Fresno.
Experts caution residents against thinking the yearslong drought is over in California, as a prolonged warm atmospheric river event could potentially lead to floods. There’s a chance of another major atmospheric river and serious temperature increase in the middle of March, said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, which could quickly lead to floods.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said on Twitter that should a significant warm atmospheric river event occur, “that could indeed pose a significant flood threat.” However, he said that is “speculation at this early juncture” since the present odds of such an epic warm happening are about 1 in 5. Another storm began moving in by late Monday, and there’s more to come. A National Weather Service forecast discussion released Thursday reports that after a predicted mild holiday weekend, a storm system is expected to bring more wind and snow to the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas during the next week.
0. “Storms headed for California to boost already healthy snowpack” Missoula Current, 22 Feb. 2023, https://missoulacurrent.com/california-snow-drought
1. “California's snowfall so far this winter rivals the state's record-setting season, officials say” CNN, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/03/us/california-snow-survey-drought-climate/index.html
2. “Could warmer storms melt California's impressive snowpack?” msnNOW, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/could-warmer-storms-melt-californias-impressive-snowpack/ar-AA18clj1
3. “More Storms for Valley in March. Will They Add to Snowpack or Melt It?” gvwire.com, 1 Mar. 2023, https://gvwire.com/2023/03/01/more-storms-for-valley-in-march-will-they-add-to-snowpack-or-melt-it/
4. “Get Ready — Winter Wonderland Of Snow Heightens Risk Of Bigger Spring Floods (Landslides, Too)” LAist, 3 Mar. 2023, https://laist.com/news/climate-environment/prepare-yourself-winter-wonderland-of-snow-heightens-risk-of-bi-spring-floods
5. “In like a lion: March to bring fresh snow and rain to California” Courthouse News Service, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.courthousenews.com/in-like-a-lion-march-to-bring-fresh-snow-and-rain-to-california/