Skip to content

California snowpack off to great start amid severe drought

Past 3 years in California have been the driest ever recorded
A coat of fresh snow is seen on a mountain the morning after a winter storm pelted the region with a large amount of snow, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. (Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

The snowpack in California’s mountains is off to one of its best starts in 40 years, officials announced Tuesday, offering hope that the drought-stricken state could soon see relief in the spring when the snow melts and flows into reservoirs that provide water for drinking and farming.

Statewide, snowpack is at 174% of the historical average for this year, an impressive amount because of a spate of recent storms. Even more snow is expected later this week and over the weekend, giving officials hope for a wet winter the state so desperately needs.

“While we see a terrific snowpack — and that in and of itself may be an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief — we are by no means out of the woods when it comes to drought,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

Officials from the department measured the snow and its water content in the community of Phillips just west of Lake Tahoe, marking the first snow survey of the winter. The snow there was at a depth of 55.5 inches (140.97 centimeters) — enough to store 17.5 inches (44.45 centimeters) of water. That’s at 177% of the historical average for that station.

The past three years in California have been the driest ever recorded, dating back to 1896. State officials have severely limited water deliveries to farmers while Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has urged residents and businesses to conserve water.

Roughly a third of California’s water supply comes from melting snow in the Northern California mountains. About 75% of California’s rain and snow comes from the watersheds north of Sacramento. But about 80% of the state’s water demand comes from Southern California, where most of the people live.

—Adam Beam, The Associated Press

RELATED: Western American megadrought worsens to driest in at least 1,200 years