California's mountain snowpack, crucial to summer water supplies, is off to good start after a wet December.
Manual and electronic snowpack measurements taken Wednesday show that the statewide snowpack is 134 percent of average for the date. It also amounts to 49 percent of an entire winter's average snowpack, even though winter officially began only about two weeks ago.
California was on the cusp of another drought year heading into this winter. The productive December storms now make that far less likely. Summer snowmelt is essential to serve the water needs of millions of Californians and millions of acres of farmland.
"Given the favorable spot we're in at this point in the season, I'd say the outlook is pretty good. But it's not assured," said Maury Roos, chief hydrologist at the California Department of Water Resources, which conducts the measurements.
He noted that numerous prior winters have dried up from January onward, so a lot depends on the months to come. January tends to be the state's wettest month, but long-term forecasts don't look promising.
The Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service estimated Dec. 31 that all of California is likely to see below-average rainfall for the month of January.
"We're well ahead. But if it stays dry through the middle of January, by then this 134% will probably slip to near average," Roos said..
Even so, the early storms have already helped replenished many of the state's major reservoirs: Lake Oroville is at 71 percent of capacity and 113 percent of average for the date, and Shasta Lake is at 73 percent of capacity and 115 percent of average for the date.