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Snowpack in southern Sierra hits all-time record levels

March 24, 2023 Updated Sat., March 25, 2023 at 10:39 p.m.

Sean de Guzman left, chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, and Andy Reising, a water resources engineer with the forecasting unit, conduct the first media snow survey of the 2023 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3, 2023. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources/TNS)  (Ken James/California Department of Water R/TNS)
Sean de Guzman left, chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, and Andy Reising, a water resources engineer with the forecasting unit, conduct the first media snow survey of the 2023 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3, 2023. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources/TNS) (Ken James/California Department of Water R/TNS)
By Terry Castleman Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – After years of extreme drought and dismal snowpack, California has had a remarkably wet winter and is now veering into record-setting territory for snowfall.

As of Friday, the snowpack in the southern Sierra was at 286% of normal – the highest figure ever, easily eclipsing the region’s benchmark of 263% set in 1969.

In a tweet, the University of California, Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab said this year recently surpassed 1982-83 as the second-snowiest on record since measurements began in 1946.

“We’ll get closer over the next week” to the top spot on the list, the lab said.

In the central Sierra, snowpack was at 230% of normal, ahead of the 1983 record level. In the northern Sierra, the figure was 182%, trailing the 1983 level.

Statewide, the snowpack is hovering near the record level: 228% of normal for this date. The level during the annual April 1 snow survey in 1983 was 227%.

The April 1 survey from 1952 – with levels at 237% of average – still is a high-watermark, though the process included fewer survey measurements, making it difficult to compare to today’s figures, said Sean DeGuzman of the California Department of Water Resources.

That means that, statewide, snowpack measurements are “higher than any other reading since the snow sensor network was established in the mid-1980s.”

Comparison issues notwithstanding, “this year will certainly be in the top three or four snowpack years since the 1950s,” DeGuzman said.

And more snow is likely on the way. The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office said on Twitter that “heavy snow is expected Monday PM – Wednesday, heaviest Tuesday.”

With floods already an issue in much of the state, a record snowmelt is now a real concern.

“There’s more water in the Sierra than these facilities can handle,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said of the state’s reservoirs. The agency will take steps to “minimize and mitigate flood damage” during what is expected to be a “very long duration snowmelt.”

Reflecting on a wild winter in California, she said the state is “unique across the western U.S.” in its capacity to “move from very, very wet to very, very dry and back to very, very wet.”

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