Officials from the state Department of Water Resources announced, on Jan. 2, potentially promising results from the first manual snow survey of 2020 at Phillips Station in El Dorado County,2.5 miles west of Echo Summit at an elevation of 6,873 feet. They recorded a snow depth of 33.5 inches with a snowpack water equivalent of 11 inches, an amount representing 97% of the average at that location. Water content indicates a more accurate projection of the spring runoff.
DWR Director Karla Nemeth said, “While the series of cold weather storms in November and December has provided a good start to the 2020 snowpack, precipitation in Northern California is still below average for this time of year. We must remember how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has on our snowpack.”
A better indicator of conditions for 2020 is electronic readings taken at 130 stations around the state, rather than the single survey at Phillips Station. Statewide the total snowpack water equivalent averaged 9.3 inches, or 90% for that date.
Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, said, “It’s still too early to predict what the remainder of the year will bring in terms of snowpack. Climate change is altering the balance of rain and snow in California. That is why it is important to maintain our measurements of the snowpack to document the change in addition to having critical information to forecast spring runoff.”
The state typically receives about 75% of its annual precipitation during December, January and February, according to information from DWR.
California had a dry start to this water year, followed by cold, wet December storms that reached 74% of average annual precipitation during that period, a condition that mimicked the previous year. Weather experts believe that climate change will involve continued warming and fewer, but more intense storms that impact the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Those changes effect the distribution of snow across elevations in the Sierra Nevada, including the amount of accumulation and the rate at which snow melts.