California’s Sierra is closing in on the second-largest snowpack we’ve seen at this time of year in the last two decades, with more snow expected to pummel the mountain range in the coming days.
But the OC Register says it’s far too soon to declare an end to the drought: Last year, we started 2022 with a similar bounty - and then ended the snow season way, way, way below normal.
“We’ve come out hot … but at the same time, it’s really early,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of the California Department of Water Resources’ monthly snow surveys.
A Bay Area News Group analysis found that of the seven times in the last 20 years that California started the new year with an above-average snowpack, only twice - 2005 and 2011 - did it finish the snow season in April still above average.
Several feet of snow is expected to accumulate by early next week as yet another storm system plows in from the Pacific, bringing colder temperatures and additional rain to the Bay Area on Monday night.
“It’s just far too early to tell whether or not these storms will have an impact on the drought,” said Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory near Donner Summit. “We were in this exact same spot last year. We were way above average, and then the faucet shut off in January through March.”
Last year, the Sierra snowpack plummeted from 160% of normal at the end of 2021 to 37% of normal by the season’s end. The last time California closed a snow season above average was in 2019 - at 161% of normal - after ending the previous year at just 73% of normal.
There is no reliable way to predict what’s in store for the next four months.
As of Friday, two of California’s largest reservoirs - Shasta and Oroville - were only at one-third of their capacity. And the snowpack, though considerable for this time of year, is still only half of what’s considered normal by April 1 - the end of a typical California snow season.