Snowpack measurements spur optimism; more rain ahead

Right, Sean de Guzman, Manager of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit, inserts the long aluminum snow depth survey pole into the deep snow, as left, Jacob Kollen and Anthony Burdock, center, both Department of Water Resources Engineers in the Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit, take the measurements during the second media snow survey of the 2023 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The survey is held approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento off Highway 50 in El Dorado County. Photo taken February 1, 2023. Kenneth James / California Department of Water Resources

While the next week or so is expected to be dry in the Santa Clarita Valley, nine “atmospheric rivers” have left the state’s snowpack in good shape, according to state water officials’ measurement Wednesday. 

The second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station, a regular measuring point at nearly 7,000 feet about 90 minutes east of Sacramento, indicated snow-water levels that were 193% of the average. Water officials tallied 85.5 inches of snow depth, which was 205% of the average.  

Two months remain until the end of the snow season, which is April 1. 

The Sierra snowpack level is critical as it provides about 30% of California’s water, and a determinative factor when State Water Project officials determine local allocations. 

The numbers reflect the challenges water planners face, as well as the schizophrenic nature of weather in the Golden State: During a news conference, water officials pointed out one of the wettest three-week periods on record that ended last month followed one of the hottest heat waves in state history in September. 

“California has always experienced some degree of swings between wet and dry, but the past few months have demonstrated how much more extreme those swings are becoming,” Karla Nemeth, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources, said on Wednesday. “California is preparing for more intense and dangerous climate swings by bolstering both drought and flood preparation. While today’s results are good news for water supplies, we know from experience how quickly snowpack can disappear if dry conditions return in the months ahead.” 

For the next eight or nine days, the forecast calls for gusty winds of 35 mph or so, starting Monday, according to Ryan Kittrell, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. 

“It’s pretty much a 40% chance of rain (Sunday night into Monday), and if it does, it will be a tenth of an inch,” Kittrell said, “so even that will be not much to write home about.” 

But starting Feb. 11, the odds for a wet Valentine’s Day are decent, he added.  

About 75% of the models available to the NWS indicate the potential for rain from Feb. 11 to Feb. 16, he said, with the levels predicted as much as an inch. 

He cautioned that those were preliminary forecasts, though, and the prognostications could change by next week.  

The measured rainfall total for the Newhall measuring station since Oct. 1 has counted 18.19 inches so far this year, with the average annual total for the season, which ends Sept. 30, being 17.19 inches.  

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