These satellite images of the Sierra Nevada range were taken in January 2014 (left) and January 2013 (right). The images illustrate the dramatic difference between the range's snowpack in those two years. Credit: NASA
The final Sierra Nevada snowpack measurement of the season -- a critical measure of the state's water supply -- revealed more bare ground than snow after an abnormally dry winter and spring in drought-stricken California.
The northern California mountains' spring runoff is a key source of water for California communities and growers, accounting for about one-third of the state's water. The final measurement of the wet season showed the snowpack at 18 percent of average for the date, according to the Department of Water Resources.
The DWR snowpack surveys gauge the amount of water melting from the mountain snowpack into streams and reservoirs. The monthly measurements allow state and regional water officials to develop water-use plans
A measurement on April 1, considered the peak of the snow season. It showed that the state's snowpack was about 32 percent of average water content.
Thursday's measurement served as another indication of the state's dire situation. California is under a drought emergency declared earlier this year by the governor as the state faces a third-consecutive dry year.
A poor snowpack measurement spells problems for the entire state with hot and dry summer months ahead.
Water managers have said the northern Sierra snowpack that feeds California's major reservoirs is 9 percent of average, and those reservoirs are only half full. The lack of water means farmers have fallowed tens of thousands of acres -- fields left unsown to restore fertility -- and that affects how many workers they employ.
Some ranchers have sold parts of their herds to cut costs as free-range grasses failed to grow as abundantly as usual, according to Associated Press reports. The water shortage also affects wildlife in California's rivers and streams.
The relentless dry spell prompted Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month to issue a second executive order in an effort to help firefighters, farmers and cities more quickly respond to the drought.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report, issued Thursday, shows that 100 percent of the state remains under Moderate to Exceptional drought conditions. More than 96 percent of the state is under Severe to Exceptional drought conditions.
The weekly report tracks drought conditions across the country. Drought Monitor researchers use five categories to indicate drought intensity -- Abnormally Dry (D0), Moderate (D1), Severe (D2), Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4).