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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 17: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Gov. Brown declared a drought state of emergency for California as the state faces water shortfalls in what is expected to be the driest year in state history. Residents are being asked to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20%. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Surveyors measured the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Thursday, and the results are more proof of California's severe drought: The California Department of Water Resources said the snowpack was 12 percent of average for this time of the year, the lowest level since electronic record-keeping began in 1960.
Prior to today, the lowest comparable snowpack reading was January 1991, when accumulated Sierra snowfall was 21 percent of average.
“On average, January will give you 9 inches of rain in the mountains. We got 0.2," said Dave Rizzardo, chief of DWR's snow survey section. The department reported that 2013 was California’s driest calendar year on records going back to 1895, and this month may go into the records as the driest-ever January.
(It may not be a completely dry month: The National Weather Service was predicting a 20 percent chance of showers before 10 p.m. Thursday in Los Angeles.)
Snowpack levels in the northern section of the Sierra were 6 percent of average levels. The central and southern sections were at 15 and 14 percent, respectively.
Winter accumulation of snow in the Sierra plays a large role in providing water for the state. About a third of California's water supply comes from the snowmelt in spring.
“If we don’t get more storms in here that actually dump some reasonable snowpack by April 1, we’re going to be looking at runoff values into the streams that quite possibly are going to hit historic all-time lows,” Rizzardo said.
As it is, Rizzardo said he doesn't believe enough storms will come through during the rest of winter to bring levels up to normal. Rizzardo said many state reservoirs are likely to look "alarmingly dry" during the summer.
Last year was one of the driest on record. That weather has continued on into late January. Governor Brown declared a state of drought emergency two weeks ago.
He was in Los Angeles on Thursday morning to meet with water leaders — including representatives from the Metropolitan Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — to discuss the drought situation and the need to conserve water.