California’s Snowpack Is Far Below Normal Levels for Early January - The World News

California’s Snowpack Is Far Below Normal Levels for Early January

California’s wet season is off to a relatively slow start, despite El Niño conditions that often mean a rainy winter.

Of course, there were big, damaging storms last week that battered parts of the coast with enormous waves that topped 30 feet in some places. But overall, there’s been about a third less precipitation across the state so far than the average for this time of year, according to rainfall totals through Sunday.

More worrisome is the state’s snowpack, which state officials said on Tuesday is just 25 percent of what it typically is at the turn of the new year. The unusually warm weather in December meant that precipitation was more likely to fall as rain than as snow, experts say.

That 25 percent figure is the lowest for California in a decade, and a huge change from a year ago. By Jan. 2 last year, a series of atmospheric rivers — storm systems named for their long, narrow shape and the prodigious amount of water they carry — had built the snowpack up to almost twice the 30-year average.

“The dry fall and below-average conditions today shows how fast water conditions can change,” Sean de Guzman of California’s Department of Water Resources said in a statement. “It’s still far too early to say what kind of water year we will have, and it will be important for Californians to pay attention to their forecasts and conserve water, rain or shine.”

The state’s reservoirs are still in good shape — all are near or above historical averages — because of California’s wildly wet 2023.

But the snowpack is an essential part of how they will fare in the seasons to come: Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada typically provides about 30 percent of the state’s water supply, filling rivers and reservoirs and propelling hydropower systems that provide the region’s electricity.

Officials said the storms that are expected to move through the state in the next few days should deepen the snowpack, though perhaps not a lot.

“Even if these next two storms come in and dump every ounce of precipitation they have, it’s probably not going to take us up to average,” Andrew Schwartz, the lead scientist and manager of the U.C. Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab, said on Tuesday. He said 32 inches of snow was on the ground at the lab, compared with 100 inches on Jan. 2 of an average year.

Still, experts say there’s still plenty of time for California to make up its snow deficit. The state typically receives half of its annual precipitation between Jan. 1 and March 31, according to Michael Anderson, a state climatologist.

“A lot can change between now and April 1,” when snowpack levels typically peak, Anderson said.

The effects of the El Niño wind pattern are difficult to predict with certainty, but 50 to 70 percent of the El Niños since 1950 have led to above-average winter precipitation in California.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A., said forecasts showed a modest tilt toward wetter-than-average conditions in California over the next three months. But they show an even larger likelihood of warmer-than-average conditions. That may mean a snow shortage, despite an increase in overall precipitation — not a great sign for snowpack levels, which he said were currently “abysmal.”

“I do think the snowpack will improve, compared to where it currently is,” Swain said in a media briefing on Tuesday, “but I don’t necessarily think this will be a good snow year.”

Today’s tip comes from Maurice Held:

“Had an unforgettable visit to Point Reyes, crossing its amazing almost-rain forest to reach the Pacific Ocean where we saw a pod of whales going up north. We learned that the park got its name from the Spaniards who reach this coast on Three Kings Day, hence ‘Reyes.’ Then we took Highway 1 to San Francisco and arrived just in time to see the city glimmering in the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was my first time seeing this beautiful city. Unreal, a dream one could wish to come true, and it just happened!”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What are you looking forward to in 2024? Milestone birthdays, travel to new places, picking up a new hobby?

Tell us your hopes for the new year at [email protected]. Please include your full name and the city in which you live.

California state and tribal agencies released a family of beavers in Plumas County in the Sierra Nevada this fall with the goal of re-establishing a breeding population there, the first such release of beavers in the state in almost 75 years, The Sacramento Bee reports.

The project was led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Maidu Summit Consortium, a nonprofit devoted to conserving the land and culture of the Mountain Maidu people. Together, the groups released seven beavers into a creek on a tract of tribal land in Plumas County where the beaver population was abundant before pioneers settled the area.

The release represents a milestone in the efforts by the state and the Maidu to conserve the region’s ecosystem. Beavers play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and their aquatic engineering can help make their environments more climate resilient.

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