U.S. EIA: “Record Precipitation, Snowpack in California”

Guest post by David Middleton


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor

MARCH 22, 2017

Record precipitation, snowpack in California expected to increase hydro generation in 2017

For the first time since 2011, California’s drought is significantly weakening—a result of one of the wettest winters on record. California has experienced record levels of precipitation this winter, and unlike last winter, cooler temperatures over the 2016–2017 winter season have enabled the precipitation to build up snowpack (the total accumulated snow and ice on the ground). High precipitation and snowpack levels, both of which supply hydroelectric generators throughout the year, suggest that hydroelectric generation in California in 2017 will significantly exceed 2016 levels.

Although the drought state of emergency declared by California authorities in January 2014 is still in place, drought conditions have noticeably improved, and the northern half of the state is no longer classified in any stage of drought severity. The area of the state classified as being in exceptional drought (D4), the most extreme category, has dropped to zero, a significant improvement over the 40% and 35% of the state’s land area classified as being in exceptional drought in March 2015 and 2016, respectively. However, 23% of the state—mostly regions in the south—is still in a moderate drought (category D1) status or worse. Mandatory water restrictions, enacted for the first time in the state’s history in April 2015, remain in effect in California. State officials are expected to wait until the full winter season ends in April to amend or rescind the state’s emergency drought declaration.

Snowpack levels have increased significantly from the near-zero levels measured in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in April 2015. As of March 21, 2017, the California Department of Water Resources reported that statewide snowpack was 158% of normal for that date. A more important metric when considering snowpack is the snow water equivalent (SWE)—the total amount of water contained within the snowpack. California’s SWE levels have noticeably increased this year, and as of March 21, the California Department of Water Resources reported that the statewide snow water equivalent was also 158% of average for that date.


Snowpack and SWE are strong drivers of hydroelectric generation because runoff from melting snowpack feeds hydroelectric plants in the spring and summer months. California’s hydroelectric generation increased through most of 2016, especially toward the end of the year. Total 2016 hydroelectric generation in California was well above the 2013–2015 range and was nearly as high as the longer-term, pre-drought generation average over 2001–2010. High levels of SWE from the 2016–2017 winter suggest increases in hydroelectric generation in California later in 2017.


U.S. Energy Information Administration


Source: California Nevada River Forecast Center Note: Click to enlarge.


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, and California Department of Water Resources Note: California snow water equivalent data for March 2017 is based on a partial set of monthly data.

So much for California’s “unending drought.



California Precipitation Index (NOAA)

90 thoughts on “U.S. EIA: “Record Precipitation, Snowpack in California”

    • What do you mean it doesn’t fit the narrative? More drought, less drought, more rain, less rain… it’s all due to climate change and therefore all man’s fault.

      • I watched a video presentation referring to change in California from draught to heavy precipitation as a “weather whiplash”. It just falls into the category of everything proves it.

    • Abrams currently has disaster article on The Guardian’s site where he claims retrospective “expectations” are proven right and Californa droght / flooding is “a good example”.

      Easy to be wise after the event. He does not cite to where these “expectations” were before the event.

      He also says climate scientists predict more drought , more flooding and some areas which have both more drought and more flooding ( not at the same time ).

      I predict that in two rolls of a dice the numbers will be between 1 and 6 and will be different from each other, except on some occasions where they will be THE SAME. !

      Keep all your bases covered when making climate ‘predictions’.

      • California’s normal climate is dominated by alternating periods of dry and wet conditions. So, predicting more droughts and floods for California is about like predicting sunrise and sunset.

      • As a native Californian, I agree except I say it a bit differently:

        “There is no normal in CA weather, only averages.”

        And yes it’s funny how quickly the alarmists went from “permanent drought” to “manmade climate extremes”.

  1. A drought emergency in the middle of no drought whatsoever allows CA Democrats to continue that narrative, you know, we are in a 1000 year drought of unprecedented proportion, never seen in modern civilization, blah, blah.

    • Quick, get the governor to declare an emergency – the predicted drought emergency didn’t occur as expected and now the new emergency is that there are no emergencies! Until tomorrow when we’ll make something else up to suck more money out of Washington.

  2. Gotta water that central valley, much food is grown there, and I hope this adds to the aquafer.

    • Unfortunately, due to subsidence from the uncontrolled pumping out of the aquifer during the dry years, there is no way for it to replenish. It’s not like a flat, dry sponge that will expand again after it’s moistened. Once the water’s removed and the ground sinks, that holding capacity is gone forever.

    • They have reverse wells, where they flood a section of field that drains into the aquifer.
      Groundwater recharging with Huell Howser.

  3. Man made climate change has produce the wettest drought in California history.
    Details to follow, Bill Nye video at 11……

  4. The statement

    However, 23% of the state—mostly regions in the south—is still in a moderate drought (category D1) status or worse

    seems rather incorrect when viewing the map.
    According to the map colors around
    14% is Yellow – D0 Exceptionally Dry
    7% is tan – D1 Moderate Drought
    2% orange – D2 Severe Drought
    It would appear, by the map, that less than 10% is still in drought with the remainder 13-14% just dry

    • Regressive progressive. Kind of true conservatism, they try to keep the Nature unchanged, preserved, as a static thing. Biologists have a word for stable. It’s ‘dead’.

  5. The record drought was clearly caused by man made global warming, as is the current precipitation record. If you disagree, then clearly, your brain has been manipulated by global warming. Yeah, it messes with brains too! So pernicious.

  6. How does that song go by Albert Hammond….”It never rains in Southern California” but when it does, Man it pours! So true.

  7. But remember
    ….it is a “dry” rain!
    and my word to Gov. Moonbeam is
    ….Haaa, Haaa, Haaa, Haaa!
    I bet, on what you learned as a little tyke during WW II
    …no toys, SAVE THE World!, be safe, no toys, no doctors, little fuel/food……NO TOYS!
    By the way, please take back all those people you pushed to Oregon,
    They live in Stump Town and buy non-existing bridges over the Columbia.

  8. The snow pack also extends to lower latitudes. There’s still over 8′ of snow on the ground at 6000 feet which is rare this late in March, especially when the bulk of the snow fell in Jan and Feb. This also means a cooler than average summer as significant snow will persist all summer long and reflect a lot of solar energy away.

      • “Pity if the Arctic stopped doing that.”

        Not that important globally considering that the average 12-13% percent of the planet covered by ice receives a far smaller fraction of the incident energy than its fraction of the surface.

        Also, since the planet (especially Arctic regions) is 2/3 covered by clouds, only 1/3 of the area of melted ice actually stops reflecting energy. Compare this to the Sierra’s which are almost always clear skies between about mid May and mid Nov, thus all of the alpine snow pack represents incremental summer reflection. In this case, the local effect is far larger than the global effect can be.

        Consider as well that the Antarctic has an average elevation of 1000’s of meters which even at those altitudes in the tropics, summer snow fields can be found.

        When you do the math, even if all the ice on the planet melted, the global incremental equivalent ‘forcing’ would be less than half of what’s needed to amplify 3.7 W/m^2 of CO2 forcing into the >16 W/m^2 of incremental surface emissions required to sustain a 3C temperature increase.

  9. It should be noted that at no time did any water agency stop issuing “will serve” letters to developers.

  10. Well I have been doing my part by saving water coming off my roof for later use to water my garden here in Southern California.. I do not have closed containers to keep the water so I cannot keep it for very long because of mosquitoes. If I do not save the water, which is really a liquified greenhouse gas, the city just collects it and dumps it just outside the city limits where it is allowed to evaporate back into the atmosphere and cause more global warming The pool of liquified greenhouse gas is now enormous. The EPA should step in and force the city to get rid of the huge pool of greenhouse gas that the city has created or at least cover the pool with plastic..

  11. The Drought levels are defined as percentiles. Exceptional Drought (D4) is the driest 2% of the time (for that location). Extreme Drought (D3) is the next 3%, Severe Drought (D2) the next 5%, Moderate Drought (D1) the next 10%, and Abnormally Dry (D0) the next 10%. Thus ON AVERAGE 20% will be D1 or greater.

    So the people responsible for mandatory water restrictions when 23% of CA is in D1 or greater remind me of Dilbert’s boss who complained that 40% of his employees’ sick leave was taken on Mondays and Fridays. Noting his suspicion about this he asked, “What kind of an idiot do they think I am?” Dilbert replied, “Certainly not an idiot savant sir.”

    • So to avoid drought according to the PDI weather has to be like the schoolchildren of Lake Wobegon, i. e. everybody above average.

  12. Just watch, all your local power suppliers including PG&E and the new CCA’s will be increasing your electricity bill due to make up for lost revenue to the solar/wind community.

  13. I suggest you read the Seattle Times March 18th Front page article showing February rainfalls for the last 70 years haven’t changed.

  14. What they’re trying to say is California’s drought slowdown is accelerating at an alarming rate.

  15. Record precipitation, snowpack in California expected to increase hydro generation in 2017

    It’s a shame that they can’t find a way to make green, clean, “low carbon”, renewable energy instead of all this DIRTY non renewable hydro. BAH.

  16. Oh, this can not possibly be true! It is never, not ever forever, going to snow or rain in Cali ever again!!!!!! Gov Brown said it so of course it is fact!!!!!

  17. So now there will be regular rain and snow every year, right?

    Absolutely not going to revert to years of drought interrupted by exceptional wetness?

    worst drought in 500 years ended by exceptional weather event doesn’t look like the old climate to me…

  18. “Record levels of precipitation”

    Sure. If by “record” you only accept records from a few decades past. If, instead, you take “record” to mean actual record, then, no. California as a whole did not experience record precipitation.

  19. Where is the research study to determine the advance of the Palisade Glacier in the Sierra Mountains? Surely with all this snow pack the glacier will be advancing at an alarming rate.
    Given its current rate of advance one could extrapolate that it will bury the Owens valley within decades!

    I believe Mark Twain had a similar sarcastic comment regarding extrapolating the reduction in length of the Mississippi River as it cut off ox bows each season.

  20. Has anyone an update on Lago Popoo in Bolivia. This lake was a poster-child of global climate change a few years back when it dried up (as it had done before). I can see it is raining in the area but no word on the lake levels.

  21. What is Gov. Brown going to do if there isn’t climate fear mongering to fill his busy little day .
    Balance a budget ? Nah… a bit to much reality for Moonbeam .

  22. I would be interested in looking at the original data of the addendum.
    Does someone here know where it is and how I can access it?

  23. Has anyone wondered why California had so much more rain this year than last year, an El Nino year? And everyone forgets our near record 2004-05 rainy season when there was barely any El Nino happening. Maybe someone can wrest some research money out of the CO2 hoard and study this a little. Sure would be helpful to have a better understanding of the factors that contribute to increased rainfall in California, at least to us Californians….

  24. Just left the grocery store -there is a sign on the register commenting that the reason the price of lettuce has sky rocketed is that the fields in the Southern California desert region (Imperial valley) and Yuma, AZ areas are too wet. Bummer…

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