Water Mangers Hopeful That Early Snowpack Will Help Replenish Drought Stricken State

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The snowpack covering California’s mountains is off to one of its best starts in 40 years, officials announced Tuesday, raising hopes that the drought-stricken state could soon see relief in the spring when the snow melts and begins to refill parched reservoirs. Roughly a third of California’s water each year comes from melted snow in the Sierra Nevada. Tuesday was the first formal snow survey of the winter. Statewide, snowpack is at 174% of the historical average for this year, the third-best measurement in the past 40 years. Even more snow is expected later this week and over the weekend, giving officials hope for a wet winter the state so desperately needs. But a good start doesn’t guarantee a good finish. Last year, the statewide snowpack was at 160% of average at the first survey. What followed where the three driest months ever recorded in California. By April 1 — when the Sierra snowpack is supposed to be at its peak — the snow was just 38% of historic average. That history prompted muted optimism from state officials on Tuesday. This winter’s promising start was aided by a spate of strong storms last month, most notably on New Year’s Eve, when much of the state was drenched in heavy rain causing floods that killed one person and damaged a levee system in Sacramento County. That storm was warmer, so it brought more rain than snow. Two more powerful storms are expected to hit the state this week, and these will be much colder. The National Weather Service says the mountains could get up to 5 feet of snow between the two storms. While the precipitation seemed out-of-character for the parched state, it reflects the type of rainfall the state would expect to see during a normal winter but that has been absent in recent drought-driven years. The storms in California still aren’t enough to officially end the drought, now entering its fourth year. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that most of the state is in severe to extreme drought. Most of the state’s reservoirs are still well below their capacity, with Lake Shasta 34% full and Lake Oroville just 38% full. It takes even longer for underground aquifers to refill, with groundwater providing about 38% of the state’s water supply each year. Back-to-back-to-back powerful storms have left many Californians preparing for the worst. In Shasta County, residents can get free sandbags and sand at a number of locations, with a list available on the KQMS Facebook page. There’s also a high wind warning in effect, with sustained southeast winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour and gusts as high as 70 miles an hour in the mountains of southwestern Shasta County. Widespread power outages can be expected.