Here is some good news for drought-stricken California; the latest forecast model output from WeatherBell suggests that the Sierra Nevada snow-pack will get a fresh dump of up to 10 feet of snow. The Sierra snow-pack has already been reported as above normal (at 136 percent of normal) in the most recent snow survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources.
DWR Director Mark Cowin said the heavy snowfall so far during Water Year 2016 “has been a reasonable start, but another three or four months of surveys will indicate whether the snowpack’s runoff will be sufficient to replenish California’s reservoirs by this summer.”
Each water year begins on October 1 and ends on the following September 30. DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys in the Sierra Nevada each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and May – at the Phillips Station plot (elevation 6,800 feet) just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road 90 miles east of Sacramento. Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said more than four years of drought have left a water deficit around the state that may be difficult to overcome in just one winter season.
“Clearly, this is much better that it was last year at this time, but we haven’t had the full effect of the El Niño yet,” Gehrke said. “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.” The state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 22 percent (New Melones) and 53 percent (Don Pedro) of their historical averages in late December. Storage in Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 51 percent of its December 30 average. [The December 30th] manual survey found a snow depth of 54.7 inches – 16 inches more than the average depth measured there since 1965 – and 16.3 inches of water content, 136 percent of the January 1 average for that site.
This forecast is to be expected, thanks to an El Niño pattern this winter which has already brought much needed precipitation to California. Storms are already stacked up in an west-to-east line as indicated by this satellite image:
This series of Pacific storms will bring more significant rain and heavy mountain snows starting today, not just to California, but much of the west:
The latest GFS forecast model has snowfall totals racking up to 10 feet over the next 10 days, and widespread amounts over 4 feet elsewhere in the Sierra and Siskiyou mountain ranges:
On top of that, there is more good news. The months ahead (January-March) are usually the busiest winter storm period for the West Coast. This graphics based on the fall forecast from NOAA might need to be upgraded a bit:
I can remember El Niño years where we have been in a drought situation and a “March miracle” occurred, literally filling reservoirs in a space of a week. That might be possible again with this good head start.
Of course, whether it is good news or bad news for California’s water year, I’m sure “climate change” will get the blame.
It is instructive to keep in mind that decades-to-century scale droughts have been part of California’s landscape (see below) long before “global warming” was a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye.