Snow last week in Mammoth Lakes, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.
Water officials in Sacramento took the media up to the Sierra Nevada today for the first snow-measuring media op of the season. The news is good, far as it goes, but they were quick to mention it's a long way from busting the statewide drought. The snowpack at the measuring station off Highway 50, near Echo Summit at around 6,800 feet in elevation, found 54.7 inches of snow. That's 16 inches more than average for the end of December measurement, and the water content of the snow was 136% of the Jan. 1 average.
Counting all the stations across the Sierra Nevada where snow and water content is measured electronically, the news is still good but less so. The water content is at 108 percent of average, but what's especially promising is that those levels are about double the readings found last year at this time. And the expected bounty of storms to be fed by the El Niño effect out in the Pacific still lies ahead, if California's past history of snow and rainfall holds up. Most of the water that falls comes between January 1 and the end of March, in El Niño years and most other years.
"Clearly, this is much better than it was last year at this time, but we haven’t had the full effect of the El Niño yet,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the state's Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. "If we believe the forecasts, then El Niño is supposed to kick in as we move through the rest of the winter. That will be critical when it comes to looking at reservoir storage."
According to the Department of Water Resources, Lake Shasta — California's largest reservoir, is at 51 percent of its average end-of-December water storage. The state’s six largest reservoirs range from 22 percent of the late December average, at New Melones, to 53 percent at Don Pedro.