California ties 1952 record for all-time Sierra snowpack

After a long series of winter storms, California's snowpack has tied the all-time record set more than 70 years ago, official measurements show.

The snow pack numbers are good news for our local water supplies.

Compared to historical levels, the Sierra snowpack on Monday was 237% of average to date. That is a record that has stood since 1952. When more readings come in over the next few weeks from additional measuring stations, it is possible that the snowpack numbers could break the all-time record.

At Phillips Station along Highway 50, near Echo Summit, officials measured a snow depth of over 10 feet.

In a news conference on Monday, state water officials said the amount of snowpack is unprecedented and has made a significant impact on the drought.


California ends some water limits after storms ease drought

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ended some of the state’s water restrictions on Friday because a winter of relentless rain and snow has replenished the state’s reservoirs and eased fears of a shortage after three years of severe drought.

"So Christmas 2022, just to remind you heading into year four of a drought, and we are just about done with the first quarter of the water year, and things were looking pretty grim. But boy have things changed in the second quarter. And you can see that footprint, a lot of those storms just running the track between San Francisco Bay and San Diego," said California State Climatologist Michael Anderson.

The state water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. More recent records, set in 1969 and 1983, were also easily surpassed this year. In 1969 the Sierra had 224% of historical average and was 227% in 1983, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The high snowpack has already resulted in good news for local water suppliers. Two Central Valley water systems – one run by the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the other by the California Department of Water Resources – bring water from distant reservoirs, which collect all the runoff to the Bay Area and other urban and rural areas in the state.

"It is incredible to see that snowpack up there because that means water into our statewide reservoirs, which is a big deal for our water supply in Santa Clara County. We call it 'imported water' which comes from outside our county," said Matt Keller with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, also known as Valley Water.

Valley Water is a water wholesaler for Santa Clara County and provides water to local water districts and municipalities.

Keller said outside water allocations have gone from zero in some cases to 100% on the federal side for residential uses. Though, he said it does not mean that conservation efforts are over.

"So we have to be prepared for the possibility that another drought is right around the corner. In fact that is the reality, another one will be coming," said Keller. 

Some of the massive Sierra snowpack will also eventually end up in what are called "percolation ponds."

The water from the ponds seep into the underwater aquifers, where it is then stored for future use. There are more than 100 such ponds in Santa Clara County alone.

Now the concern in the Sierra Nevada range turns to runoff, which state officials fear could heavily impact agriculture in the Central Valley. But exactly when that happens depends more on the amount of direct sunlight rather than just the air temperature.

"What really drives snow melt is the radiation from the sun. So more solar radiation onto the snow, which obviously happens more when it is warmer out," said David Rizzardo, hydrology manager with the California Department of Water Resources.

When the final snowpack numbers are in, the measurements could top the record set in 1952. Measurements are collected in different parts of the Sierra Nevada range, and some of those stations have not been reachable due to snow and ice. The final tally could take several weeks.