California snowpack at 100 percent of average as January ends, state officials say

The Department of Water Resources conducted California’s second manual snow survey of the year Thursday at Phillips Station, which offered some good news for the state.

DWR water resource engineer John King announced that snow water content doubled since the start of the month at the survey site near Echo Summit.

“The snow depth today is 50 inches and the snow-water equivalent is 18 inches, which results in 98 percent of average to date and 71 percent of the April 1 average at this location,” King said. “This is a significant increase since the last survey, where we had just measured 25.5 inches of depth and 9 inches of snow-water equivalent.”

This year’s Jan. 3 survey at Phillips found snowpack below average, but well above the levels recorded at the start of 2018. Last January’s first reading came in at a dismal 0.4 inches of “snow water content,” as officials announced on dry grounds, wearing boots and jeans.

On Thursday, DWR officials were in snow pants and heavy jackets, stomping through the powder in snow shoes. The Phillips Station announcement was streamed live to Facebook.

A statewide summary of snow-water equivalent showed California at 100 percent of normal (17.3 inches) as of Jan. 31.

“This is typically the date of maximum snow accumulation,” King said. “California started 2019 with a series of cold storms which increased our statewide snow-water equivalent to 100 percent of average (to date) according to our statewide monitoring network.”

The Sierra will also see a strong storm system pass through this weekend, expected to create major travel delays around Tahoe while bringing moderate to heavy precipitation across Northern California. The winter storm is expected to further boost snowpack numbers.

Manual surveys are performed at 260 snow courses measured statewide throughout California.

“This data drives decisions that are made throughout the state by water managers,” DWR Chief of Hydrology and Flood Operations John Pasch said Thursday.

Pasch said snow-water measurements affect management decisions all the way through spring and summer, but is crucial in real-time during the winter. This data helps DWR determine reservoir levels needed for adequate flood storage.

“Average isn’t necessarily normal,” Pasch said. “We’ve had really wet years and some really dry years, so it really is comforting to have an average year for the Feb. 1 measurement.”

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