Snow survey reflects dismal January | NevadaAppeal.com

Snow survey reflects dismal January

The Associated Press
Frank Gehrke, Chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, with the Department of Water Resources, takes snow measurements for a snow survey last Thursday morning.
Isaac Brambila / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

ECHO SUMMIT, Calif. — California’s second snow survey this winter found the Sierra Nevada snowpack is far below normal after a dry, unusually warm January.

The survey on Thursday found a snowpack water equivalent of just 2.3 inches in the scant snowpack near Echo Summit, about 90 miles east of Sacramento.

It amounted to just 12 percent of the long-term average for this time of year at the snow course.

The snowpack supplies about a third of the water needed by state residents, agriculture and industry. A higher snowpack translates to more water for California reservoirs to meet demand in summer and fall.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said there were 7.1 inches of snow on the ground Thursday.

During the first winter snow survey on Dec. 30, there were 21.3 inches of snow on the ground after heavy storms.

“January did not bring any joy,” Gehrke said. “In December at least we had some (snowfall) whereas in January we’ve had zilch. Clearly that is a big concern because as we move into the spring, the likelihood of storms drops off.”

The National Weather Service said this month is likely to be one of the five driest Januarys on record for Northern California.

The latest survey makes it likely that the drought will run through a fourth consecutive year. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17, 2014.

Brown’s office said the latest survey underlines the need for sustained water conservation.

“Today’s snow survey is a stark reminder that California’s drought is far from over,” Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said in an emailed statement.

Water resources managers say heavy rain and cooler temperatures in the next three months would be required for the snowpack to build and give Californians hope for beginning to recover from the drought this year.

To possibly see an end to the drought, California would have to record precipitation that is at least 150 percent of normal by Sept. 30, state climatologist Michael Anderson has said.

The department and other agencies conduct manual snow surveys around the first of the month from January to May to check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.

Statewide, the snow water equivalent as measured Thursday by more than 100 sensors was 25 percent of the historical average.

Last month, the statewide snow water equivalent was 50 percent of the long-term average for the date.