So far, 'disappointing' Sierra snowpack - but that could change

Jan 3, 2018

The first manual snow survey of the season Wednesday shows it was an extremely dry December in the Sierra Nevada. Water managers in California say a bad start doesn't necessarily mean a dry season ahead. 

History shows that California winters can quickly turn from dry to wet, with some years flipping the scenario as late as March. Wet atmospheric rivers of moisture can line up to douse the Sierra with sufficient snowfall in just a matter of weeks.

"We have seen very dramatic turn-a-rounds. If you think back a decade or so ago, we had the 'miracle March' that took us out of very extremely dry conditions into a moderately decent condition," said snow survey director Frank Gehrke. 

Gehrke was taking a manual survey at Phillips Station, in the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento, where the snowpack sits at just three-percent of normal. The statewide average based on more than a hundred electronic sensors show the Sierra water content at less than a quarter of where it should be. 

The Department of Water Resources says long-range forecasts need to become more accurate as climate change exaggerates the state's already variable weather patterns. This is key so that the state can do a better job of holding or releasing water in reservoirs.