With one month left in what are California’s three wettest months of the year, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is at 27 percent of average for the start of February, said the state Department of Water Resources.
Snowpack in parts of the Rocky Mountains is at record lows because of warmer than usual weather, “raising concerns about water supplies and economic damage,” says Inside Climate News.
Three new studies show that the West is running low on water, and that much of that decline is a result of climate change, says High Country News.
Snowstorms since late December dumped the equivalent of 17.5 million acre feet of water on the Sierra Nevada, says the Los Angeles Times, pointing to estimates by University of Colorado researchers. "That figure amounts to about a third of what the researchers said was the drought’s 54 million-acre feet shortfall in the snowpack" during the five-year California drought.
The California Department of Water Resources is to conduct its first "media-oriented manual snow survey" of the 2017 water year today in the Sierra Nevada, with the state potentially headed for a sixth year of drought. A week ago, the snowpack held 10.5 inches of water content statewide, 72 percent of average, one month into the three wettest months of the year, according to electronic monitoring.
California is so big "[i]t has different droughts in different places," Jay Lund, an engineering professor at UC-Davis, told the Los Angeles Times. Rainfall in the northern Sierra Nevada, a water source for much of the state, is 180 percent of average so far in the wet season, but Southern California, which gets half of its water from local sources, is historically dry.
Snowmelt from the northern Sierra Nevada provides water for a large part of California during the warm months. An analysis by UCLA says that if greenhouse-gas emissions are not curbed, the snowpack that provides the water could be half its current size by the end of the century, reports public radio KPCC-FM in Pasadena.
“Snowpack levels in the West are melting faster than climate hydrologists have seen in nearly four decades, bringing the snowpack far below normal in most states in the West,” says High Country News.
Meltwater from snowfall in California's mountains provides 30 percent of the state's water needs in a normal year. The snowpack this year is vastly improved from a year ago, when it was 5 percent of average.