Sierra storms bolster California’s snowpack, but more wet weather needed to make up for early winter deficit

The snowpack survey was conducted on Feb. 3, 2021. at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. (Department of Water Resources)

The snowpack survey was conducted on Feb. 3, 2021. at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. (Department of Water Resources)

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California’s mountain snowpack has improved considerably over the past month, thanks in part to a major storm that dumped much-needed snow across the Sierra Nevada.

Yet, that still was not enough to make up for the dry start to the winter, officials said Wednesday.

The latest manual snow survey measurement, the second of the season, recorded a snow depth of 63 inches and a snow water equivalent of 17 inches at Phillips Station, according to the Department of Water Resources. That’s about 93% of the average for that location, which is nestled in the northern part of the majestic range.

Statewide, the electronic snow survey indicated the snowpack’s snow water equivalent is approximately 12.5 inches, roughly 70% of the average for the annual February measurement. But the latest figure is still about 45% of the April 1 average, which is typically when the snowpack is at its peak.

The measurements are important because the snowpack represents a critical source for the state’s water supply when it melts, accounting for almost a third of it annually.

A major storm system swept through the Sierra last week, dropping several feet of snow throughout the region, including up to 9 feet on Mammoth Mountain, according to the National Weather Service. The Lake Tahoe area recorded as much as 7 feet of snow in parts.

While photos from the weather service’s Reno station on Jan. 30 showed how the fresh powder bolstered the snowpack in a period of just 10 days, officials emphasized that more water is needed to make up for the season’s slow start.

“The state has experienced a series of storms over the last couple weeks that brought a significant amount of rain and snow,” Sean de Guzman, the department’s chief of snow surveys, said at a news conference. “However these storms were not nearly enough to make up the deficit we’ve accumulated over the last few months.”

The extremely dry conditions last fall in the Sierra Nevada — as well as most of the state — followed a below-average year for snow and precipitation in the Golden State, according to the agency.

The latest figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor now show about 95% of the state is currently mired in moderate to severe drought. A year ago, the state was drought-free.

As California slips further into drought conditions, officials are urging residents to reduce water usage at home.

“While there is still a chance we will see additional storms in the coming weeks, the Department and other state agencies are preparing for the potential for a second consecutive year of dry conditions,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement.

For conservation tips, the agency recommends going to the website

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