“It was the heavens watching me fall,” said Schwartz, the lab’s chief scientist and director.
The snow dumping in the Sierra Nevada over the past two weeks has come as a huge relief to those keeping an eye on mountain ice, an important source of water that fills state reservoirs and will determine how long California must endure an unrelenting drought. While the researchers caution that even this abundance of accumulation—reaching about 15 feet in some parts of the mountains—can still be wiped out by exceptionally hot or dry conditions later in the year, earlier-than-schedule snow accumulations amount to Good news for the devastated state reservoirs.
Snow mass in the Sierra Nevada across California has reached 226 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the state. Department of Water Resources. During the previous winter, California had also experienced major December storms that accumulated much earlier than average snow, only to endure the three-month driest start to the year in the state’s history, resulting in the third straight year of drought. The most critical moment for the assessment comes on April 1, which Schwartz called the “golden date” for snow measurement, because that was traditionally when snowpacks are at their deepest point and important data in modeling the year’s upcoming water supply.
Schwartz noted that the current snowpack has exceeded the April 1 average, by 102 percent of normal.
“We didn’t come close to that last year,” he said. “If we are above that [April 1 average]it usually means that we’re going to be in for a good water year, and we’ll likely look to come out of a drought.”
The devastating ram of storms that battered the California coast spelled disaster for many parts of the state widespread floodsMass evacuations, power outages, fallen trees, arch dams, mudslides and at least 18 deaths. Extreme events caused by climate change – from too little water to too much – have brought a new round of costly devastation to populations accustomed to the ravages of smoke, fire And dry wells.
The storm that hit the California coast on Wednesday was the seventh in a series of nine storms expected to move in from the Pacific Ocean since Christmas. Over the past week, some areas, like the Santa Barbara area, received up to 15 inches of rain in one day.
Heavy rain has already boosted California tank levels, though the two largest — Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville — are still less than half full and below averages. Reservoirs across the state are currently at 84 percent of average, Molly White, director of water operations for the state water project, said in a briefing to reporters Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, they still have a long way to go to get back to the mean,” Michael Anderson, a state climatologist with the Department of Water Resources, said at the briefing, referring to Shasta and Oroville. “The good news is that they are at historic lows. The challenge is that they still have a lot to recover from before they return to normal operating conditions.”
The recent storms have not had a significant impact on the Colorado River Basin, another important source of water for California. This region also suffers from historical droughts Dramatic cuts In using water as levels in Lake Powell’s major reservoirs Lake Mead fell to dangerous levels. Atmospheric rivers—narrow but condensed strands of deep tropical moisture that stretch thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean—that flooded California’s coast and mountains haven’t had the same effect inland. snow blocks In the upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — it’s above average for this time of year, although it’s not as high as California.
But the past two years have also seen relatively abundant snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, but runoff levels well below average. Rising temperatures in recent decades have dried soil, accelerated thawing, increased evaporation and lengthened growing seasons, so vegetation takes up more water before it arrives, said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who studies the relationship between to the cabinets. Snow mass and water supplies in the Colorado River region.
“Even with these very high years, we’re still seeing droughts across the basin, largely due to the fact that we still have this backdrop of high temperatures,” she said. “If we have very, very high years, several years in a row, we may see some correction in the reservoir systems.”
“It’s really too early to say, ‘Yeah, this will help us.'” Bennett added: I think we have to see how the rest of the year really plays out in terms of the weather system and its effects.
During this wave of storms in California, the freeze height was about 5,000 feet. Schwartz noted that some of the deepest snowpacks after these recent storms are in the southern Sierra Nevada.
“The great thing is that this is where they needed the moisture the most, realistically,” he said. “It’s statewide, but the areas in Southern California that needed it most are now getting it the most.”
On Wednesday morning, flakes fell at Mountainous Field Station Schwartz, but more storms were on their way in the coming days.
“We are in a really favorable situation,” he said.