Extremely Dry January and February Wipes Out Early Season Surplus, Signals Third Year of Drought
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today conducted the third snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. Following a January and February that will enter records as the driest documented in state history, the manual survey recorded 35 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 16 inches, which is 68 percent of average for this location for March. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Statewide, the snowpack is 63 percent of average for this date.
“With only one month left in California’s wet season and no major storms in the forecast, Californians should plan for a third year of drought conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “A significantly below-average snowpack combined with already low reservoir levels make it critical that all Californians step up and conserve water every day to help the state meet the challenges of severe drought.”
Although early season storms helped alleviate some drought impacts, a lack of storms in January and February heightens the need for conservation. The Governor has asked all Californians to cut back water use at least 15 percent compared to 2020 levels. Regionally, the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra snowpacks are all standing just above 59 percent to 66 percent of average for this date, impacting watersheds across the state.
DWR has increased its efforts to improve climate and runoff forecasting by strengthening its collaborations with partner agencies investing in proven technologies to improve data collection and hydrologic modeling. This includes efforts at the Central Sierra Snow Labwhere DWR and its partners regularly test new equipment and sensors to maximize performance when measuring the state’s snowpack. Forecast improvements and monitoring enhancements increase the reliability of data used to inform water managers about flood risks, allowing opportunities to create more storage in reservoirs ahead of big storms while also ensuring water supply reliability in periods of dry or drought conditions.
“As the world continues to warm, precipitation is pushing toward extremes. Even when we see large storms producing a lot of snow early in the season, all it takes is a few dry weeks to put us below average,” said Jeremy Hill, Manager of DWR’s Hydrology and Flood Operations Branch. “This new pattern challenges forecasting efforts that have relied on historical patterns, so DWR has led the charge to adopt new technologies and utilize the best available science to manage water in real time and use forecasts that give us time to make decisions to get the most benefits and minimize the hazards.”
Current water conditions are now available in real time at California Water Watch, a new website launched by DWR. This website will help Californians see their local hydrological conditions, forecasts, and water conditions down to their address or their local watershed. The site presents data from a variety of sources and allows the public to obtain a quick snapshot of local and statewide water conditions.
“With below average precipitation and snowpack up until this point, our latest statewide snowmelt forecasts are only 66 percent of average,” said Sean de Guzman, Manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit. “That is not enough to fill up our reservoirs. Without any significant storms on the horizon, it’s safe to say we’ll end this year dry and extend this drought a third year.”