There’s “a pretty phenomenal snowpack” in the Sierra Nevada, but not enough to break the record for the same date set in the winter of 1969.
The state’s March 1 “snow-water content” survey at Phillips Station off Highway 50 measured snow packed 113 inches deep. Melted down, that would be the equivalent of 43 inches of water. The readings represent 179 percent of the long-term average, said Frank Gehrke, the veteran Department of Water Resources official who runs the snow survey.
That’s the fifth-highest March 1 reading on record for Phillips Station. The March record for the site was set in 1969, when readings showed 57.4 inches of snow-water content.
Snowpack levels statewide Wednesday were at 185 percent of normal. In the southern and central Sierra, snowpack levels are near the pace set in 1982-83, when California as a whole received the most snow on record.
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While there’s no snow in the short-term forecast, more storms could arrive in coming weeks. April 1 is the date in which the Sierra snowpack generally has reached its greatest depths.
“We’ve had very big Marches in the past – the so-called ‘Miracle Marches’ that bailed us out some years ago when prior to that we had very dry conditions,” Gerhke said. “You can readily anticipate fairly good storm activity in March and quite often in through April.”
A healthy snowpack means extra water becomes available in summer, when California lawns and crops get thirsty and demand soars.
In Sacramento, February rainfall also fell short of a record. A total of 8.04 inches fell in Sacramento last month, straining creeks and causing some flooding, but the region has seen wetter Februaries in 2000 (8.93 inches) and 1986 (10.30 inches).
Still, when the extremely wet January 2017 (9.85) is combined with the very wet February 2017 (8.04), the combined two-month total is a record 17.89 inches. The National Weather Service said Wednesday that the wettest combined Januaries and Februaries ever recorded in Sacramento are these:
▪ 2017: 17.89 inches
▪ 1878: 17.30
▪ 1969: 16.51
▪ 1998: 16.22
▪ 1909: 16.18
▪ 1986: 15.18
The normal rainfall for January is 3.97 in Sacramento, while the average in February is 3.82 inches.
Dry weather that characterized the final days of February is likely to continue through Friday. The National Weather Service is predicting sunny weather until a slight chance of rain this weekend.
Staff writer Bill Lindelof contributed to this report.