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CA Starts 2024 with Below-Normal Snowpack a Year After Epic Storms

California's snowpack is at 25% of average, but the state's reservoirs are at 116% of average, and more precipitation is expected.

California Department of Water Resources official Sean de Guzman reported that the water content of the statewide snowpack is at 25% of the average to date. The snowpack is a crucial source of water for California, providing around 30% of the state's annual water usage as it melts and flows into streams and rivers during the spring.

De Guzman and his team conducted the first in a series of seasonal manual measurements on a snow course in the Sierra Nevada at Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe. They also collect measurements with electronic instruments at over 260 other sites. During their measurements, they found minimal snow and a checkerboard of bare spots, and recorded a snow depth of 7.5 inches and a snow-water content of 3 inches, translating to 30% of average to date and 12% of the average on April 1, the typical peak of the Sierra snowpack.

De Guzman emphasized that it's too early to determine whether the year will be wet or dry, as many things can happen with storm systems between January and April. He noted that last year's wet winter pulled the state out of a yearslong drought, and the state's reservoir storage is currently at 116% of average. Additionally, there's a strong El Nino, which can lead to more precipitation than usual in California.

Looking ahead, the Climate Prediction Center's seasonal outlook for January, February, and March is showing an increased chance of above-normal precipitation and snow. A year ago, the early January snowpack was already exceptional amid a barrage of atmospheric river storms, and by April, the snowpack was 237% of average to date. The storms caused deadly and damaging flooding, but ultimately filled the state's reservoirs to 128% of their historical average.

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