NASA: Extreme Weather Can Be Good, Sierra Snowpack Bigger than Last 4 Years Combined

NASA Snowpack

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released new findings on Tuesday that reveal extreme weather can be beneficial to the Earth and its inhabitants.

“New NASA data show that snowpack in the Tuolumne River Basin in California’s Sierra Nevada — a major source of water for San Francisco and California’s Central Valley — is currently larger than the four previous years of snowpack combined,” the article posted on NASA’s website said.

NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) took the measurement of the Tuolumne Basin snowpack on April 1 — “a critical annual measurement of snow for states and their inhabitants, at 1.2 million acre-feet (1.5 cubic kilometers).”

“That’s enough snow to fill the Rose Bowl (football stadium) in Pasadena, Calif., nearly 1,600 times,” the NASA report said.

NASA said the ASO is the only existing program that measures snow depth, snow water equivalent, or the water contained in snow, and how much sunlight snow reflects over an entire basin.

Two scientific instruments — a scanning lidar and an imaging spectrometer — placed on a King Air aircraft are used to get the measurement.

The ASO flies in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho, and also is flying a research version of the program in the Swiss Alps.

“In such a huge snow season, the data available from ASO will provide critical guidance for water managers as we enter into the peak melt season later this spring,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys of California’s Department of Water Resources.

Principal Investigator Tom Painter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said water managers did not have the right tools previously to analyze the snowpack and plan accordingly.

“With ASO, we will be precisely quantifying this volume and how it changes through the spring,” Painter said, adding that forecasting errors have dropped from as much as 40 percent to less than two percent.

“The 2017 California snowpack is close to the largest on the record, which consists of decades’ worth of snow measurements made at ground level,” NASA reported. “ASO mapping showed that Tuolumne Basin’s snowpack is twice the volume of last year’s snowpack and 21 times larger than the snowpack of 2015, the lowest on record.”

With the additional measurement of the San Joaquin Basin, ASO now maps the snowpack of the entire Central Sierra Nevada range from Kings River in the south to the Tuolumne River in the north.

In February, Forbes magazine reported on the record snowfall in California.

“California’s Department of Water Resources this month said the Sierra snowpack that provides the state with its water year-round is 173 percent above normal for this point in the season,” the articles said. “That’s good news for farmers and skiers, alike.

“But even with rains that keep coming, experts say groundwater levels need to be replenished even further before the drought can be declared over,” the article said. “That could take one or two more seasons of serious rain.”


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