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January 9, 2018 > California snowpack measurements low

California snowpack measurements low

By Associated Press

PHILLIPS STATION, Calif. (AP) -- The grassy brown Sierra meadow where California's water managers gave the results of the winter's first manual snowpack measurements on Jan. 2 told the story -- the drought-prone state is off to another unusually dry start in its vital winter rain and snow season.

ÒWe would like to have had more snow,Ó Grant Davis, the head of California's Department of Water Resources, told news crews gathered in this mountain field, bare of all but a few crusty dots of old snow.

ÒIt's earlyÓ in the snow season, said Frank Gehrke, head of the state's snow survey team. He stuck a metal pole into one of the few patches of snow at this site, measuring just over an inch or 3 percent of normal. ÒWe're obviously hopeful there will be more snow the next time we come out here.Ó

Climate change increasingly is changing the mountain snowfall equation, but historically up to 60 percent of Californians' water supply each year starts out as snowfall in the Sierras. That makes the state's manual and electronic snowpack measurements in these mountains crucial gauges of how much water cities and farms will get in the year ahead. This winter, one month into the state's peak storm season, snowpack across the Sierras stood at 24 percent of normal on Jan. 2.

The dry spell is even more acute in Southern California, including Los Angeles, which the National Weather Service said this week was marking its driest 10-month period on record. Residents there last saw significant rainfall in February.

The dry start to the rain and snow season is raising worries the state could be plunging right back into drought. The scene on Jan. 3 was reminiscent of 2015, when Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a brown, dry Sierra meadow equally bare of snow to declare a drought emergency, including mandatory water cutbacks by cities and towns.

Near-record rainfall last winter snapped the historic drought, filling reservoirs and sending many rivers over their banks. Reservoirs remain at 110 percent of normal storage thanks to the last wet winter, water officials said.
This winter, in contrast to the previous rain-sodden one, meteorologists point to a strengthening La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, which typically brings drier weather. A stubborn ridge of high pressure in the Pacific - the same bad guy during the state's drought -- has been blocking storms from reaching Southern California in particular.

In December, dry winds and parched vegetation combined for the state's biggest wildfires on record in the Los Angeles area, after deadlier wildfires in Northern California in October.

Even as the water officials spoke on Jan. 3, a welcome new storm carried some of the first rain in weeks into Northern California, which also had marked one of its driest Decembers on record. Parts of Northern California are likely to see rain -- but not massive amounts of it -- through the first half of January, with 1 or 2 inches of snow expected in the Sierras, the weather service said.

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