Good News! Sierra Snowpack Is Above Average

The snowpack at Phillips Station off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, is above average for this time of year. (California Department of Water Resources)

State water officials checked the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada today and reported that recent storms boosted it to the highest level in five years.

On average, the statewide snowpack is 114 percent of normal for this time of year. That number isn’t a reflection of how many inches of snow California has; it’s a measurement of how much water the snow contains.

Today’s manual survey at Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe, showed the snowpack at 130 percent of the February average. That’s just one location, though. There are more than 100 locations up and down the Sierra where the state gets readings of the water content in the snowpack. The vast majority of them reported the snowpack at under 90 percent.


About one-third of the state’s water supply comes from the snowpack, but the good news in the Sierra doesn’t mean the drought is easing. A lot could happen to change the outlook for summer between now and April 1, when, historically, the snowpack has reached its peak before melting and feeding rivers and streams.

And the state’s major reservoirs are still very low; all but one are below average, because they began the year with so little water.

As of yesterday, Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, was only 52 percent full.

Reservoir levels from February 1, 2016.
Reservoir levels from February 1, 2016. (California Department of Water Resources)

State officials say the drought won’t be over until California makes up the water deficit that’s built up over the last four years. That likely won’t happen for a year.

So while today’s snow survey brings good news, officials remind us the drought is far from over.

Good News! Sierra Snowpack Is Above Average 2 February,2016Lindsey Hoshaw

  • Stacey-Tony Ascaso

    There is no normal. The problem is that CA water is over allocated its water resources, we have overpopulated the state since the 1970’s and 50% of the water is dedicated to fish and environmental restoration. Time to start desalination for all the large overpopulated areas near the ocean namely Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area and depopulate the Central Valley that is overdrawing the aquifer and will eventually destroy it just like Los Angeles destroyed their aquifer in the early 1900’s.


Lindsey Hoshaw

Lindsey Hoshaw is an interactive producer for KQED Science. Before joining KQED, Lindsey was a science correspondent for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Forbes and Scientific American. On Twitter @lindseyhoshaw

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