Deep Snow in Sierra Nevadas Spells End to Calif. Drought

California's Sierra Nevada snowpack is a critical factor in the state's water supply.

The Department of Water Resources will conduct its monthly manual snow survey today at Phillips Station, just off Highway 50 about 90 miles east of Sacramento. Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would result if the snow instantly melted.

Water levels at Lake Shasta are 114 percent above historic average; San Luis Reservoir, west of Los Banos, 115 percent; and Lake Oroville, which is struggling with structural problems, 110 percent.

The snowpack is vital because it provides one-third of the state's water to homes and farms when it melts.

While there's no snow in the short-term forecast, more storms could arrive in the coming weeks.

The snowpack usually is at its deepest and most water-laden around April 1, so weather watchers won't know with certainty what kind of wet season it has been until then.

Electronic monitors showed the snowpack at 186% of normal Tuesday. "Most of the snow courses are well over their April 1 accumulations, which at Phillips is 25 inches", said Gehrke.

After several years of drought, much of California was hammered by atmospheric river storms in January and February.

This winter has been California's wettest in at least 20 years, and in some parts of the state, it may be the rainiest in history, according to state data.

California's climate is the most variable of any state. In addition, as global warming drives up average temperatures in California, more precipitation will fall as rain, not as snow stored in the Sierra Nevada and other mountains.

  • Larry Hoffman