One of California’s Most Important Assets is Off to Great Start This Year

Jonathan Belles
Published: December 5, 2018

California's Sierra Nevada, the state's increasingly crucial reservoir, is off to a well-above-normal snowpack to begin the wet season. 

Many of the peaks are seeing double the normal amount of snowpack compared to early-December averages. 

Percentage of snow water trapped in the Sierra Nevada, where blue and green flags show above-average snowpack.

Several systems, including the disturbance that became Winter Storm Carter, have dumped feet of snow in the Sierra since late November. Snowfall totals ranged from three to five feet of snow in Carter alone. 

You can see the difference between a rather wimpy late November snowpack and the early December blanket of slow from the Sierra eastward below.

Several wintry systems have dumped snow in California's Sierra over the last ten days.

The central and southern Sierra are doing especially well in the powder department due to the recent storm tracks to the south.

(MORE: Here Are 5 Extreme Weather Patterns to Look For Over the Next Few Months

The higher terrain of California, including the Sierra Nevada, act as a slow-release water tank that drips water into the lower-elevations and higher population centers across the state. 

More than 60 percent of California's water supply comes from the Sierra Nevada. This water is used by 25 million people for sustainability, forestry, power and more. 

Snowfall during the winter months is like California putting money into a bank to be used in later months. The more snow that falls during the winter, the less likely the golden state will have water issues later in the year. 

2018's snowpack in the California (in blue, at left) compared to other recent years and the average snowpack.
(California Department of Water Resources)

Spring and summer snowmelt of Sierra snowpack is crucial to California's water supply. It recharges reservoirs downstream during the state's dry summer and early fall, so the amount of water content the mountains contain is important. 

(December 2018 Temperature Outlook: Warmer Trend in the East With Colder Than Average Conditions in Parts of the West)

The last several years have been rocky in the state in terms of water.

The news has been good despite the long-lasting drought across the state. Dry conditions dominated from 2011-2016, but the 2016-2017 wet season was one of the wettest for the state. Going into the 2018-2019 wet year, the central and southern Sierra are actually the least dry portion of California.

The recent spell of wet and snowy weather had made Mammoth Mountain in the central Sierra the snowiest place in the Lower 48. 

Ski resorts along the entire mountain chain are using the new snowfall to open more trails and lifts. 

California picks up most of its precipitation during the winter months and there is plenty of time for more snow. The forecast continues to bolster some hope that the drought will come to an end this year. 


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