Spring storms in California were not enough to offset dry winter months, meaning a summer with below average precipitation, officials say

California
People visit poppy fields near the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve on April 16, 2020 in Lancaster, California where the annual spring bloom is underway. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

People visit poppy fields near the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve on April 16, 2020 in Lancaster, California where the annual spring bloom is underway. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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While spring storms brought needed snow to the Sierra Nevada, it was not enough to offset California’s dry winter months, officials said Thursday.

The season’s last manual snow survey was conducted Thursday at Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe, to help forecast spring and summer snowmelt runoff into rivers and reservoirs, the California Department of Water Resources said in a news release.

The survey recorded 1 1/2 inches of snow depth — a snow water equivalent of half an inch. That’s just 3% of the average for May in the location measured.

Measurements from 130 electronic snow sensors across the state show that the snowpack water equivalent is 8.4 inches, or 37% of the May average, officials said.

Dry conditions in October and November were followed by precipitation in December that was 120% of average, according to the department. Very dry conditions returned to much of the state in January and February, which were followed by storms in March and April.

The spring storms led snowpack to peak at 66% of average on April 9, meaning California will enter summer with below average precipitation and snowpack, according to the department.

The U.S. Drought Monitor for April 28, 2020, shows more than 41% of California in drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor for April 28, 2020, shows more than 41% of California in drought.

More than 41% of the state is in drought as of this week, according the federal drought monitor.

“The last two weeks have seen increased temperatures leading to a rapid reduction of the snowpack,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of the department’s snow survey. “Snowmelt runoff into the reservoirs is forecasted to be below average.”

Typically melting snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs, the department said. The more snow water there is, the greater the likelihood that reservoirs will receive sufficient runoff to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, currently holds 94% of its historical average and is at 81% capacity.

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