California snowpack at highest level in 22 years

Snow-covered mountains sit behind a California Aqueduct in the high desert Jan. 24. Jeff Zimmerman/For The Signal

A series of winter storms increased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada—a key source of drinking water for Southern California—to the highest levels since 1995, according to latest reports.

Statewide, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is 173 percent above average, according to a report from the California Department of Water Resources released Thursday.

“The Sierra Nevada mountains in the north, central and south have all done really well in snowpack this time of year,” National Weather Service (NWS) Hydrologist Jayme Laber said.  “If we don’t get any more snow before April 1, we will still be above average.”

Consistent storms throughout the month dropped an estimated 17.5 million acre-feet of water on the Sierra Nevada mountain range in January, according to a report from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Water Earth Science and Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory study.

Researchers who conducted the report believe the heavy snowfall might have replenished 37 percent of the state’s five-year snow-water deficit.

In Southern California, Laber said residents should still focus on other areas the region gets water from including local surface water, local ground water, Owens Valley and the Colorado River.

“We get water from multiple sources,” he said.  “There are lots of different areas we need to pay attention to.”

And although the snowpack provides a promising outlook for drought conditions throughout the state, officials believe it is not enough to really end California’s five-year drought crisis.

“We had a lot of rain, but it still isn’t quite enough yet to break this drought,” Laber said.  “Surface water reservoirs were really low and almost empty before these storms… it’s not enough, we need more.”

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that drought conditions are continuing to slowly improve in California, with 38.98 percent of the state experiencing no signs of abnormal dryness or drought.

Only 1.87 percent of the state is in extreme drought and none is in exceptional drought, which is an improvement from a year ago when nearly 64 percent of California was in extreme drought and nearly 40 percent was in exceptional drought.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office said it will wait until April to possibly end the state’s drought emergency, first issued in April 2014.

The winter rainstorms and snowstorms are expected to continue—if you believe in the predications from Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this Groundhog Day.

Weather reports from the NWS indicate that there are three chains of rain hitting southwest California during the next 10 days.

In Santa Clarita, rain is expected to fall Friday morning, afternoon and evening, until partly cloudy skies return to the area throughout the weekend.

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