Lack of Snowfall “the Consistent Issue” for Drought-Stricken California

California needs a winter wallop of snow at high elevations if drought conditions are to improve

A lack of snowfall during what are typically the wettest months of the year in California continues to dampen hopes for drought recovery, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor Report.

The report highlights the importance of snow accumulation in the region's mountains, including the Sierra Nevada range -- the source of springtime water runoff that provides freshwater for an estimated 25 million Californians. Statewide snowpack was at just 25 percent of normal for this time of year, according to a manual survey conducted last week that confirmed readings from electronic sensors.

The snowpack survey results, described by state water officials as "dismally meager," illustrate the fact that December's drenching storms brought above-average rainfall in some parts of the state but not much snow in the Sierras.

"The consistent issue in the west this current water year is the lack of snowfall, even in the highest elevations," according to the Monitor statement released Thursday. "The majority of the precipitation has fallen as rain, which has impacted many groups who count on snow for their livelihoods.

"Many valley locations are showing adequate rain this winter, but the same cannot be said for the upper elevations and their snow totals. This has made depicting drought quite difficult, as the runoff associated with the upper elevation snowpack is vital."

The snowpack measurement is an important factor in the drought forecast because spring runoff from the Sierras flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which then feeds California's major water reservoirs. Without adequate spring runoff, those reservoirs will remain at critically low levels into the dry, hot summer months.

This week's Drought Monitor report shows a small portion of the extreme southeast corner of the state no longer in drought, but 99.84 percent of California remains under some type of drought category. The Monitor depicts drought conditions using five categories -- abnormally dry (D0), moderate (D1), severe (D2), extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4).

Nearly 40 percent of the state falls under the exceptional category.

The percentage remain largely unchanged since last week as the state endured another stretch of mostly dry conditions in January. San Francisco received no rain for the entire month for the first time in 165 years.

Figures released earlier this week show California is at 85 percent of normal precipitation for this time of year. That includes a stormy December when the state reached 131 percent of normal precipitation.

Significant rainfall is expected late this week for the northern part of California. High-elevation snowfall is possible with the storms, whic moved into extreme northern California early Thursday.

State climatologists estimate the state would need at least 150 percent of normal precipitation by the end of the water year, which is Sept. 30, if California has any chance of significant drought improvement.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and asked Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. State records show its a figure residents have had difficulty meeting, except for in December when statewide figures showed a 22-percent water-use reduction.


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