HANFORD — The Department of Water Resources conducted the first snow survey of 2019 on Thursday, and although measurements were below normal, there is still plenty of time for more precipitation to bolster the snowpack.
Thursday, the DWR conducted the first snow survey of 2019 at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe.
The DWR conducts five snow surveys each winter — near the first of January, February, March, April and May.
The manual survey recorded 25.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 9 inches, which is 80 percent of average for this location.
Statewide, officials said the Sierra snowpack is 67 percent of average and the results confirm that despite early winter storms, Sierra water content is below average for this time of year.
“The last few years have shown how variable California’s climate truly is and what a profound impact climate change has on our water resources,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a released statement. “California’s significant weather variability means we can go from historic drought to record rainfall, with nothing in between.”
Nemeth said climate change will continue to exacerbate the extremes, creating additional challenges for maintaining water supply reliability and the need for innovative solutions.
On average, officials said the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.
The melted Sierra snowpack provides most of Kings County’s summer water supply.
DWR State Climatologist Michael Anderson said about two-thirds of California’s annual rainfall occurs December through March. He said total precipitation so far this water year, which began Oct. 1, has been below average.
“We still have three wet season months ahead of us, so there’s time for the snowpack to build and improve before it begins to melt, which usually starts happening around April 1,” Anderson said.
According to weather predictions, that improvement may begin this weekend and continue into the coming weeks.
Meteorologist David Spector with the National Weather Service office in Hanford said a winter storm is set to come in late tomorrow morning and will remain through Sunday for a showery weekend. He said humidity will be higher and temperatures will drop over the weekend, though they’ll be closer to normal for this time of year.
“It’s not a real major storm,” Spector said. “It should move through quickly.”
A local positive effect of the rain is that storms mix the atmosphere and prevent fog from forming, Spector said.
Scott Borgioli, chief meteorologist at WeatherAg, said as of Friday, Hanford was at 1.64 inches of total rainfall for the season, which is 18 percent of the annual average of 8.94 inches. He said the area could get another ¼-inch of rain this weekend.
Spector said the storm could also bring 5-10 inches of snow in elevations above 5,000 feet, which is good news for the snowpack.
More so, he said the storm coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday is potentially shaping up to be even stronger than the one over the weekend.