California Reservoirs Get Good News About Water Levels

A recent California snowpack update provided some good news for reservoir water levels.

Average snowpack throughout the state of California has skyrocketed since early January. At the start of the year, snowpack levels were much lower than expected. A series of atmospheric rivers has since brought torrential rain and heavy snowfall to the state, and the state’s snowpack is now 86 percent of its average, a sigh of relief for California reservoirs.

Although most of the state’s reservoirs are near their historical average or exceeding it, low snowpack could signal the return of water struggles when hot, dry weather arrives as the state relies on snowmelt to supplement a third of its water supply.

Snow blankets the Sierra Nevada mountains after recent storms increased the snowpack on February 22, near Lone Pine, California. The improved snowpack is good news for California reservoirs.

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“California’s snowpack has made a fantastic comeback this winter jumping from a dismal 28 percent of normal on January 1 to 86 percent of normal today,” weather analyst Colin McCarthy posted on X, formerly Twitter, in the early morning hours on Friday. “With more storms possible in early March it’s possible we could see a 100 percent of normal snowpack by April 1!”

California’s snowpack has made a fantastic comeback this winter jumping from a dismal 28% of normal on January 1 to 86% of normal today.

With more storms possible in early March it’s possible we could see a 100% of normal snowpack by April 1! pic.twitter.com/oSYOnQWveP

— Colin McCarthy (@US_Stormwatch) February 23, 2024
In a follow-up post, McCarthy shared a satellite image that showed the snow spread throughout the state of California.

“A breathtaking snowy and green California from space today,” he wrote with the image.

In early January, snow survey data revealed that in the northern Sierra mountains, snowpack was only 38 percent of its average. The levels turned even more dire southward. Snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada mountains was only 34 percent of average, and only 27 percent in the southern peaks.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Sacramento shared that as of Friday, snowpack in the northern Sierras was at 99 percent of average, the central Sierras were at 82 percent of average and the southern Sierras were at 80 percent of average.

The California snowpack is currently 86% of normal for this date statewide, 99% of normal for the northern Sierra, 82% for the central and 80% for the south. Data courtesy CDEC/DWR #CAwx pic.twitter.com/TLQmKXUlY6

— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) February 22, 2024
Although the numbers are encouraging, Michael Anderson, state climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources, told Newsweek that March will be a critical transition month, as “California moves out of the wettest months of the year.”

“Recent storms over the past month helped provide a boost to the snowpack, but overall we have not caught up from the deficit caused by a dry fall and early winter,” Anderson said. “The Northern Sierra snowpack benefited from recent storms and is much closer to average for this date, but the Southern Sierra remains only 80 percent of average due to the high snow elevations of recent storms, causing more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow.

“If there are extended dry periods between now and the end of the season, the snowpack could still end the year significantly below average,” he added.

Last year, snowpack levels skyrocketed to 257 percent of their average after California experienced an abnormally wet winter, but experts warned that one wet season wasn’t enough to replenish the state’s water reserves, and a lack of snow this season—also known as a snow drought—is raising concerns that the crisis could return.

More snow is on the way, and the NWS office in Hanford forecast that up to 30 inches could fall in parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

“A storm system will impact Central California Sunday evening until Tuesday morning, resulting in generally light to moderate precipitation. Snow will fall mainly in the Sierra Nevada,” NWS Hanford posted on X on Thursday.

A storm system will impact Central California Sunday evening until Tuesday morning, resulting in generally light to moderate precipitation. Snow will fall mainly in the Sierra Nevada. #cawx pic.twitter.com/EJmXKDkGOv

— NWS Hanford (@NWSHanford) February 22, 2024
Update 02/23/2024, 1:54 p.m. Eastern time: This article was updated with comment from the California Department of Water Resources.

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