A series of winter storms in the Sierra Nevada have wreaked havoc in the region over the past week as heavy snowfall forced local highways to close, buried towns in piles of fresh powder and rendered some areas completely impractical.
But the snow has also reinforced the Sierra’s severely depleted snowpack at a time when drought-stricken California is in desperate need of the critical water supply to recharge.
The snowpack bounces
As of Wednesday, the snow water equivalent of the Southern Sierra was 167% of the average for that date, while the Central and Northern Sierra were at 162% and 145%, respectively, according to the California Department of Water Resources. .
Those numbers haven’t been so high for a Dec. 29 since 2010, when parts of the snowpack were 200 percent of average at the time, the records show.
For comparison, readings were between 33% and 61% of normal on December 29, 2020. At the start of this month, the range was 21% to 51%.
The numbers matter because about 30 percent of California’s water storage comes from the snowpack when it melts in late spring through summer and replenishes state reservoirs. Most of these reservoirs remain below the historical average.
More information on the snowpack will likely be released on Thursday, when the Department of Water Resources takes the first live snowfall of the winter at Phillips Station.
Heavy snow hits Sierra
California’s main water source is aided by heavy snowfall in the Sierra Range, which was covered in snow throughout December.
This week, Lake Tahoe broke a 50-year-old record for its snowiest December, with a total of 193.7 inches, according to the Central Sierra Snow Lab at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Snow Lab – which is in Donner Pass – has since received more snow, bringing in a monthly total of 210 inch from Wednesday morning.
Other areas of the mountain range have also received impressive amounts of snow recently.
At Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, a whopping 134 inches has fallen over the past seven days, accounting for almost half of the total seasonal snowfall to date.
And Mammoth Mountain, which is in the Eastern Sierra, is on track to have its second-highest snow total for a December, with 161 inches so far this month. Including October and November, the resort is now about 50 inches above its snowfall total for the entire 2020-2021 season, which was 244 1/2 inches, according to Mammoth’s records.
Forecasters predict light snow showers in the Sierra until New Years Eve, with up to 2 inches possible in parts. Heavy snow is expected to return to the beach next week, according to the National Meteorological Service.
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