In spite of recent storms, the snowpack at a key point in the Sierra remains at just 53 percent of average, but state water officials, nonetheless, called it a good start as California enters its sixth year of drought.
Tuesday marked the state’s first official manual snowpack reading of 2017 at Phillips Station near Echo Summit in the Sierra.
The measurement at Phillips is largely ceremonial, since it provides just a small snapshot of the state’s snow-water conditions. Electronic sensors in the Sierra that monitor the entire snow water content in the mountains show that as of Tuesday, the state’s snow water content is at 70 percent of normal.
Tuesday’s survey marks the 20th time in the last 30 years that snow water content at the Phillips site fell below historical averages for Jan. 1, according to a review of Department of Water Resources data. It was the 14th lowest measurement in the last 50 years.
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Average temperatures in the Sierra have trended warmer over the last several years, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.
Warmer temperatures mean that more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow in the Sierra, which is not ideal. The state’s water infrastructure is build around capturing and storing melting Sierra snow so that it can be portioned out for irrigation and drinking water during California’s hot summers and falls.
The average temperature at Squaw Valley – elevation 7,200 feet – was 36 degrees between October and March of the last 10 years. The average Squaw Valley temperature over the prior 100 years was 33 degrees, the Western Regional Climate Center data show.
Around two-thirds of California, largely in the southern half of the state, remains under drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Last year at this time, about 98 percent of the state was in drought.
The National Weather Service has a winter storm warning in effect through Wednesday night in the Sierra. The storm is expected to bring several feet of snow to the Sierra. Forecasters say the Truckee area should get a respite from the storm on Thursday night and Friday. Another storm will blow in Friday night, but it’s expected to be warmer with high snow levels.
The weekend forecast calls for Truckee calls for rain and snow Saturday and rain on Sunday. Truckee sits at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.