January snow survey reveals little snowpack

Grant Davis, Director of the California Department of Water Resources, left, assists Frank Gehrke, Chief of the Calif. Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, with the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The survey site is approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento off Highway 50 in El Dorado County. Photo taken January 3, 2018. Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Wednesday's manual snow survey in the Sierra Nevada found little snowpack but officials are saying it is still too early to draw conclusions on what kind of season we'll have this year. 

Measurements at Phillips Station revealed a snow water equivalent of 0.4 inches, 3 percent of the average snow water equivalent of 11.3 inches in early January at Phillips as measured there since 1964. 

Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously. 

"California's great weather variability means we can go straight from a dry year to a wet year and back again to dry," said Department of Water Resources Director, Grant Davis. "That's why California is focusing on adopting water conservation as a way of life, investing in above and below ground storage, and improving our infrastructure to protect our clean water supplies against disruptions."

DWR said more telling than the survey at the Phillips Station was the electronic readings from 103 stations scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada. The measurements indicated the snow water equivalent of the northern Sierra readings are 3.3 inches (29 percent of average) and 1.8 inches (20 percent of average) respectively. 

Statewide, the snowpack's snow water equivalent is 2.6 inches or 24 percent of the January 3 average. 

"There's plenty of time left in the traditional wet season to reverse the dry trend we've been experiencing," said Frank Gehrke, the Chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. 

California's exceptionally high precipitation last winter and spring has resulted in above-average storage in 154 reservoirs tracked by the Department of Water Resources. DWR estimates total storage in those reservoirs at the end of December amounted to 24.1 million acre feet, or 110 percent of the 21.9 million acre feet average for the end of the year. 

One year ago, those reservoirs held 21.2 million acre-feet, 97 percent of average. End-of-year storage is now the highest since December 2012, which was early in the first of five consecutive water years of drought in California. 

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