The Sierra Nevada snowpack is finally starting to resemble a snowpack. And the possibility of another drought is looking a little less likely.
Bolstered by four days of pounding wintry weather, the snowpack at Phillips Station near Echo Summit weighed in at 39 percent of average for this time of year Monday. Just a week ago, the snow at Phillips Station was just 7 percent of average.
“What a difference a week makes,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the snow survey program at the California Department of Water Resources, after completing the 30-minute manual measurement at Phillips. “That is a huge boost to what we had been seeing.”
The monthly survey at Phillips, a vast meadow at 6,800-feet elevation behind an old stage coach stop on Highway 50, dovetailed with results found by other manual measurements and electronic monitors. DWR said the statewide snowpack is at 39 percent of average for this date.
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After weeks of dry weather, which had some experts and ordinary Californians wondering about a return of the drought, Gehrke said he was encouraged by last week’s dump of snow.
Two more storms like last week’s, he said, should put the Sierra within shouting distance of an average winter.
The National Weather Service said another storm is expected beginning Wednesday, although it won’t be nearly as heavy as last week’s. The new storm should bring up to 6 inches of new snow by Friday night.
By contrast, last week’s storm brought up to 7 feet of snow at upper elevations.
A good-sized snowpack is a critical part of California’s water supply system. As the snow melts, it replenishes the state’s reservoirs during the spring and summer.
At Phillips Station, Gehrke and a crew of assistants, tromping through the meadow on snowshoes, measured 41.1 inches of snow, or 9.4 inches of water. They made their measurements by plunging a hollow aluminum tube into the snow as an assortment of media representatives struggled to keep up.
A welcome surprise: the snow has turned out wetter than expected. The National Weather Service had said last week’s snow would bring relatively little water content. Instead, Gehrke said it turned out about average.
A week ago, Gehrke found just 13 inches of snow at the site.
“Very robust production, very encouraging, we hope to see more of these,” he said.