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California At Heaviest Snowpack In 22 Years

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, plunges the survey tube into the snowpack as he conducts the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif, Jan. 3, 2017.
Associated Press
Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, plunges the survey tube into the snowpack as he conducts the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif, Jan. 3, 2017.
California At Heaviest Snowpack In 22 Years
California At Heaviest Snowpack In 22 Years GUEST:Alex Tardy, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service

I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Our top story, it is happening again. There is a never -- another double whammy of stores. The first is hitting northern California but we've feel the second one with rain on Monday. Water managers are finding joy turning to concern on how we will store the water. It is a good problem to have after years of drought but it is a problem. We have the meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the studio. Alex, thank you to the -- welcome to the studio. Thank you. Are these storms like the one we had in January? You're right. It is not letting that. The one thing different with these storms, they are weaker and they last night as law. They move through the region quickly but nonetheless, for Northern California, it is beneficial for additional snowpack and rainfall. Any idea how much snow they are getting up there and how much rain we will get done here? The first storm coming in is week. We only expect to get light rain, which has occurred in orange County to the north. In northern California, they do expect significant snowfall of a foot and to perhaps 2 feet in the highest elevations. This will move out for a dry weekend. Then, the one on Monday, it is slower and struggle. It will start coming into the state Sunday night and roll through on Monday. How is the snowpack doing in California It is impressive. It is 170-190% of normal. It is almost double, compared to what it should be for this time of year. It is impressive in this southern Sierra Nevada. That is. That has been hit hard, especially in January. We're talking feet of snow and many inches of water. In fact, it is getting to the point where some of the water has to be released on the larger dams in that area. Exactly. As you say, this is the heaviest accumulation we have had in 22 years. That is the good news. The not so good years -- the news is that reservoirs are filling up quickly. Tell us about that. You are right. We were on pace with the 2010-11 winter. We have passed that and we continue as we get additional storms. The wettest year on record is 1982-83 and we are on pace with that. What we are seeing now because of the snowpack, it is the run of the brain. Now, the concern is the snowpack is getting healthy and close to 200% of normal. You need to make room for. It is not urgent yet because the snow does not melt until April and May. We have had years where it has prematurely melted in February and March. Right now, water is being released from the larger dams to make rain for the snowpack. It is a managing game between how many more storms we will get and how much do we have to release and knowing exactly how much snow is sitting up there. San Diego gets a significant amount of the water supply from the Colorado River. Has the snowpack been good in Colorado when A part of Colorado and the water system that goes to the Utah has been good. And far northern Utah down into northern Colorado, those areas have been above normal. The southern areas, not as good. Colorado water systems is going on a drought that has been lasting a dozen years. The reservoirs that those come from, Lake Mead and that water system, it comes down in the Colorado and it goes through Palm Springs and into San Diego and Riverside, that system has been stressed for a dozen years. This year, there is some hope to add additional water to it because of the beneficial snow and rain that is in northern California. Hallows San Diego situated? Has enough time elapsed between the storms that we should be able to handle this without significant flooding or anything like that? I think so. Because it is not a direct hit on Monday, I think we will be okay. The storms we had in January, two or three of them were direct hits. They came land -- Sleeman in -- slamming in. These systems will go by to the north. We will get rainfall that is creating titles on Sunday night and Monday but not enough to cause flooding. We are seeing water flowing into the local reservoirs of San Diego County. That is great. We have gone from 43% of capacity to close to 50% of capacity. Our reservoirs are small. It is a local supply that helps us with 10% of our usage. That is good news. It is good news. I have been speaking with Alex with the national weather service in San Diego. Thank you again.

Sierra Nevada snow drifts are at a drought-busting 173 percent of average, with the most snow recorded since 1995, California water managers said Thursday.

State water managers poked rods into drifts as high as tree branches to measure the snowpack.

They found far more snow than at the height of California's more than five-year drought, when the measurement was done in almost-bare mountain meadows.

"It gives everything a much brighter outlook," said Frank Gehrke, the state Department of Water Resources who conducted the manual snow measurements.

The overall snowpack is vital to the state, providing a third of water supplies year-round.

This year's bountiful snowpack came thanks to one of the stormiest Januarys in decades. The storms brought three-fourths of the state's normal yearly precipitation in just a few weeks.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to wait until the end of the rainy season, in April, to decide whether to lift a drought-emergency in place since 2014.

In January, back-to-back-to-back storms from the tropics that each dropped a hurricane's worth of water on the state put the state at 108 percent of its normal rain and snow for the year, with two months still left in the rainy season, said Michael Dettinger, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

California had received just one-fourth of a normal year's precipitation when January started, he said. The storm systems, known as atmospheric rivers, "caught us all off guard, how many came in so quickly, and turned everything around," Dettinger said.

January's storms lifted the northern half of the state out of drought. This time last year, 95 percent of California was in drought, after the driest three-year stretch in the state's recorded history.

In April of 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a Sierra meadow bare of its usual snow to declare a drought emergency in California, and ordered mandatory water conservation in cities and towns.

State water officials, who lifted the statewide conservation mandate as the drought eased, say Brown's administration likely will wait for a final seasonal snow survey in April before deciding whether to officially end the state drought emergency.