California Drought: Statewide snow pack survey at 63% of normal

State water officials took a crucial survey of the Sierra snow pack on Tuesday and the results say: California needs a lot more rain a lot sooner. A third year of drought is becoming more likely. 

The March snow survey is the third of the rain season and is increasingly important to predicting water supplies; a third of which come from the snow pack. 

Phillip Station in El Dorado County is just one of 260 snow measurement locations.

"That resulted in 68% of average to date and 61% of the April 1 average at this location," said Water Resources Snow Surveyor Sean Guzman. Statewide the statewide snow pack is now 63% of normal and is likely to be only 68% on April 1.

"That's not enough to fill up our reservoirs," said Guzman. As of Monday at midnight, the state's five largest reservoirs were just 44% full on average, well below the historical average level of 62% full on the same day over many years.

So what does the National Weather Service long-range forecast show? "Right now, we're looking at more like a 70 to 80% chance of it being dry. That means that there's a 20 to 30% chance that we could get some moisture in that time frame," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian Garcia. 

However, a 21-day long-range forecast is like being up in an airliner looking down at a forest. A three to seven-day forecast is more like being in the woods with the trees with far greater details. We've seen a couple of those offshore wind events that have driven the humidities way down," said Garcia. 

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Dry means fire dangers are amplified. "We see our drying out of fuels for fire growth faster this summer than we've seen in years past," said Garcia.  

"You've got your dead and down fuels as a result of our fires and then our critically dry fuels as a result of the drought," said Santa Rosa Fire Department Division Chief Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal. Without more rain and soon, a long, hot, smoky peak fire season is baked into the cake.  "We could be in those peak conditions much earlier at this rate," said Lowenthal.

"This emphasizes that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to preparing for drought and continuing to conserve water." said Water Resources Snow Surveyor Jeremy Hill.

The fact is, five years ago, the weather turned hotter, drier and more fire prone.