A very wet winter across California recently pulled the state out of drought for the first time in years, and it’s also been a boon for the Sierra snowpack, now at a staggering 156 percent of normal as of Wednesday.
The latest figures show a marked improvement over this time last year, when the statewide average for the snowpack was about 40 percent of normal, according to the National Weather Service’s Hanford office.
In fact, as the weather service noted in a tweet, the snowpack has reached 150 percent just eleven times in March since measurements began in 1950 — and only twice this century. The last time was in 2017.
Thanks @CA_DWR for more info on the snowpack! Dating back to 1950, the statewide snowpack, according to the snow courses, has only been above 150% a total of 11 times on March 1. This occurred in water years 1952, 1956, 1962, 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983, 1993, 1998, 2017, and 2019. pic.twitter.com/B3NKHNFxXQ
— NWS Hanford (@NWSHanford) March 19, 2019
Atmospheric rivers have fueled storm after storm in the Sierra Nevada this winter, resulting in seasonal snowfall totals of 550 inches or more at several ski resorts in the region that falls under the weather service’s Sacramento office.
Mammoth Mountain has received 635 inches — nearly 53 feet — of snow at the summit this season, according to the resort’s website.
That’s more than Squaw Valley, which topped the weather service’s recently released chart with 618 inches of snow, or approximately 51 1/2 feet. Mammoth, however, falls under the jurisdiction of the water service’s Reno office and was not included in the list.
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) March 12, 2019
And even as all that snow was good news for resorts across the Sierra Nevada, it represented even better news for all Californians.
That’s because the snowpack supplies nearly a third of the state’s water needs on average, as the snow melts starting in the spring and flows into reservoirs, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
As of mid-March, most of the state’s reservoirs are currently above their historic averages.
The latest manual survey conducted at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada recorded 113 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 43.5 inches. The results of that snow survey — the third one of up to five conducted in winter and early spring — were released on Feb. 28.
At this time last year, the snow depth at the station measured a paltry 13.5 inches, while the snow water equivalent was at a meager 1.5 inches.
And with the Northern Hemisphere experiencing weak El Niño conditions, more precipitation is likely through April, according to the water resources department.
“This is shaping up to be an excellent water year,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement from the department last month.
Thanks to a very wet winter, California is drought-free for the time since Dec. 20, 2011, the federal monitor recently reported.
More rain and snow are forecast to hit around the state on Wednesday, which also marks the first day of spring.