Drought eas­ing Cal­i­for­nia snow heav­i­est in 22 years

Cape Breton Post - - CLASSIFIEDS/WORLD -

Clam­ber­ing through a snowy meadow with drifts up to the tree branches, Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter man­agers mea­sured the state’s vi­tal Sierra Ne­vada snow­pack Thurs­day at a drought-bust­ing and wel­come 173 per cent of av­er­age.

Runoff from the over­all Sierra snow­pack, which pro­vides arid Cal­i­for­nia with a third of its wa­ter in a good year, stood at the high­est level since 1995 for this point in the year, Cal­i­for­nia’s Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources said.

State of­fi­cials say Gov. Jerry Brown will wait un­til closer to the end of Cal­i­for­nia’s rain and snow sea­son this spring to de­cide whether to lift an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion ad­dress­ing the dev­as­tat­ing five-year drought.

But Thurs­day’s snow­pack read­ing, which took place in a meadow that had been bare of snow at the height of the drought, was good news.

“It gives ev­ery­thing a much brighter out­look,’’ said Frank Gehrke, the state’s snow-sur­vey chief, who con­ducts the snow sur­veys sev­eral times each win­ter.

Pho­tog­ra­phers and other jour­nal­ists trailed Gehrke in a Ground­hog Day-style rit­ual in the state, where wa­ter short­ages from the drought and from overuse have dom­i­nated much of the news.

Gehrke noted the snow plows rum­bling and ski lifts hum­ming up and down the moun­tain range when he poked a rod into the drifts at Phillips Sta­tion, about 90 miles east of Sacra­mento.

Gehrke had to change his route be­cause the snow was so much higher than nor­mal. At Phillips Sta­tion, his mea­sure­ments showed snow at a level that would have melted down to 28.1 inches of wa­ter. That com­pares to 11.3 inches in an av­er­age year.

The state mea­sures over­all snow­pack through more than 100 elec­tronic sen­sors through­out the Sierra Ne­vada.

Statewide, snow­pack stood at 173 per cent of av­er­age for the date.

Back-to-back-to-back storms in Jan­uary that each dropped a hur­ri­cane’s worth of wa­ter have put the state at 108 per cent of its nor­mal rain and snow for the whole year, said Michael Det­tinger, a hy­drol­o­gist for the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. That’s with two months still left in the rainy sea­son.

The storm sys­tems, known as at­mo­spheric rivers, “caught us all off-guard, how many came in so quickly, and turned ev­ery­thing around,’’ Det­tinger said.

Jan­uary’s storms have lifted the north­ern half of the state out of drought. On Thurs­day, 51 per cent of the state re­mained in drought, com­pared to 95 per cent at this time last year.

In April of 2014, Brown stood at Phillips Sta­tion to de­clare a drought emer­gency in Cal­i­for­nia. He or­dered manda­tory wa­ter con­ser­va­tion in cities and towns. Phillips Sta­tion at that point held no mea­sur­able snow, amid the state’s dri­est three-year stretch in his­tory.

Frank Gehrke, right, chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Co­op­er­a­tive Snow Sur­veys Pro­gram for the Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources, checks the depth of the snow­pack as he con­ducts the se­cond man­ual snow sur­vey of the sea­son at Phillips Sta­tion, Thurs­day.

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