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KPBS Drought Tracker Update: Warm Winter Stalls Snowpack Growth

DATA SOURCES: Rainfall data comes from a weighted average of 96 weather stations throughout the state. Snowpack data represents the average of three different multi-station measures of the northern, central and southern Sierra snowpack. Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers, through the California Nevada Applications Program RISA and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, helped compile the data.

Aired 2/12/16 on KPBS News.

The latest numbers from the KPBS Drought Tracker show statewide rain and snowfall not budging over the past week.

That "Godzilla" El Niño must have taken a nap this week.

Warm temperatures and clear skies have kept California dry. The latest numbers from the KPBS Drought Tracker show statewide rain and snowfall not budging over the past week — the snowpack has even decreased slightly in some areas due to melting.

As of Thursday morning, the state had received 76 percent of the rain that normally falls between Oct. 1 and April 1. That's the same number observed last week, bending the seasonal rainfall curve flat for the past seven days. The average Sierra snowpack measurement was at 78 percent of the seasonal normal, just barely up from 77 percent the week before.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate researcher Sam Iacobellis said looking at these numbers, you wouldn't think there's anything special about this year.

"You would think this is just a pretty normal, average year," he said. "You probably wouldn't think there's a strong El Niño in place."

Iacobellis said there's still time for storms to develop. But California is currently lagging far behind precipitation levels from the last major El Niño. At this point in 1998, the state's rain and snowfall were already well above 100 percent of the seasonal normal.

Another concerning trend: some of the snow that has built up this year is disappearing. Certain parts of the Sierras have seen snow melting due to high temperatures in recent days.

"Snow melting in the middle of the winter is a negative thing, as far as California water managing," said Iacobellis, noting that this week's melting has been minimal.

Californians should get used to losing snow in the winter, Iacobellis said. Climate change will only make California winters warmer in the future, diminishing the snowpack and causing it to melt earlier. And that will mean less water reserves in the summer.

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