Sierra Snow Disaster: Low Snowpack, Nonexistent Rainfall Exacerbate CA Drought

Steve Yeater/AP
Steve Yeater/AP

Sierra Nevada snowpack levels and practically non-existent rainfall totals are converging to push California into a fourth straight year of drought.

On Thursday, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) trekked up the Sierra Nevada mountain range for its annual measurement of the region’s snowpack, a critical source of water for the northern and central parts of the state. The agency measures the thickness and water content of the snow in an attempt to determine the state’s water supply for the upcoming year.

The snowpack is at just 25% of normal levels, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Many parts of the region reportedly did not even have enough snow to measure.

“It’s a dismal result, and and it continues the dry period that California has been in for three years now,” DWR spokesman Doug Carlson told the Chronicle. “We have pretty much flatlined as far as winter precipitation is concerned.”

Record temperatures in many California cities are exacerbating the problem. According to the Weather Channel, the temperature in Death Valley reached 87 degrees on Sunday, January 25, the highest temperature ever recorded there in January. Redding recorded a high temperature of 80 degrees, breaking the record set last year in that city. Several other California cities have seen their January temperature records matched or broken. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2014 was the hottest year on record in California.

The warm weather is slowly chipping away at the already alarmingly low Sierra Nevada snowpack levels.

And it’s still not raining.

San Francisco has not recorded a single drop of rain in January, and with no rain forecast through the end of the month, the city could be on track to record its first rainless January since record-keeping began in 1850, according to the Weather Channel. That would break the city’s previous record for driest January, recorded last year. Sacramento is not faring any better; one hundredth of an inch of rain was recorded downtown.

The numbers are a little better for Southern California, but still lag far below average. Los Angeles saw 1.36 inches of rainfall in January, and San Diego saw less than half an inch. Both totals are less than half of their respective averages in January.

Despite a string of storms that brought torrential rain to most of the state in December, the outlook for the rest of winter is not promising. Earlier this month, two federal agencies predicted the drought would continue for a fourth year after forecasting minimal to zero rainfall for most of California.


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