The Department of Water Resources conducted the second snow survey of 2019 on Thursday and the snowpack is looking good.
The manual survey — taken at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe — recorded 50 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 18 inches, which is 98 percent of average for this location.
Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously. Officials said that measurement allows for a more accurate forecast of spring runoff.
Statewide, officials said the Sierra snowpack is 100 percent of average.
By comparison, on Feb. 1, 2018, measurements at Phillips Station revealed a snow water equivalent of 2.6 inches, only 14 percent of the early-February average. And last year at this time, measurements at this location were at 30 percent of average.
DWR conducts five snow surveys each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and May.
The Phillips snow course is one of hundreds that will be surveyed manually throughout the winter. Manual measurements augment the electronic readings from about 100 snow pillows in the Sierra Nevada that provide a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack.
The first measurement taken this year at the beginning of January recorded 25.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 9 inches at Phillips Station, which is 80 percent of average for the location. Statewide, the Sierra snowpack was 67 percent of average at that time.
DWR Director Karla Nemeth said the snowpack across California is on par with the historical average for this time of year, thanks to an atmospheric river that brought heavy snowstorms to the Sierra Nevada.
“Typically, California relies on a handful of large storms like we saw earlier this year,” Nemeth said in a released statement. “It’s a start, but the next two or three months will determine what it means for our reservoirs and overall water supply.”
There is a winter storm warning for the Sierra Nevada through Monday night, according to the National Weather Service Hanford office. Heavy snow is expected as two storms move across the area with total snow amounts possibly getting as high as 6 feet.
Results from snow surveys like the one conducted Thursday at Phillips Station are critical to the management of California’s water. Officials said more than 50 local, state and federal agencies work together as part of the Cooperative Snow Surveys Program to collect data from more than 300 snow courses throughout California.
“The data we collect allows us to forecast how much snowmelt will run off into our streams and reservoirs,” said John Paasch, Chief of DWR’s Hydrology and Flood office. “Snowpack is an important factor in determining how DWR manages California’s water resources each year to sustainably meet demands.”
On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer to meet water demands in the summer and fall.
The melted snowpack provides most of Kings County’s summer water supply.