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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Storms headed for California to boost already healthy snowpack

The Golden State needs more snow this spring to recover from the damage done by the historic drought.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — After a mostly dry February, California may see a return of stormy weather over the next week — a welcome addition to a snowpack that will bring some relief to the historic drought. 

The Western Regional Climate Center reported Thursday that despite a relatively slow February for snowfall, a deep snowpack that began accumulating during three weeks of relentless storms last month has grown stronger in California and the Great Basin. 

“Following the strong atmospheric rivers earlier this winter, small-to-moderate storms with less moisture have resulted in smaller but continued snow water equivalent gains,” the office reported, adding that snow water equivalent measurements across the West are near or at record highs for this date. 

The updated report shows that most of California’s snowpack sites are now measuring above 150% of the 1991-2020 median for snowpack levels. This follows a trend the California Department of Water Resources reported two weeks ago — that statewide snowpack is at 205% of average, thanks to a winter that is outpacing the wettest year on record going back to 1982 and boosting reservoir levels to 9 million acre-feet statewide. 

And there’s more to come. A National Weather Service forecast discussion released Thursday reports that after a predicted mild holiday weekend, a storm system is expected to bring more wind and snow to the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas during the next week. 

The forecasters say there is not much to report for the weekend before President’s Day, but a major pattern change is expected to arrive by the middle of the next week. The forecast projects up to 30% chance of a high wind event between Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by an influx of moisture along with a colder air mass. 

“This pattern doesn't look like a warm atmospheric river event with copious amounts of liquid,” forecasters said. “However, we could see a prolonged period of both high and low elevation snow which could easily amount into some significant totals. How much will be contingent on how long our low pressure friend hangs out off the California coast.

“At this time, it looks to be at least several days of very active, wintry weather for the Sierra and western Nevada,” they added, cautioning travelers to pay close attention. 

Most of California is in a moderate to severe drought. (California Drought Tracker via Courthouse News)

It’s good news for the Golden State that an unusually dry February pattern is ending, with most of the state still in a moderate to severe drought. State experts have warned that the final snowpack totals determining how much drought recovery may occur will not be known until April. If the state returns to dry conditions for two months, a significant snowpack can quickly disappear. 

The National Weather Service’s Reno office cannot predict how much snow might fall next week until several days before the weather event, according to service meteorologist Chris Johnston.

But he said the cold temperatures riding in on the storm front — with lows heading into the upper 20s or low 30s starting Wednesday afternoon in the Tahoe area — are great for producing snow, not rain, which is really what the state needs. 

“It’s pretty typical to see this stuff where you see a lull between storms,” Johnston said. “It will definitely be good for the snowpack.”

Follow @nhanson_reports
Categories / Environment, Regional

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