Environment & Science

Dry spell shrank snowpack in parched California, surveyors say

In this file photo, Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, holds his snow survey notes after performing the first manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. January's water content measured 130 percent of normal for that time of year, but a warm February has raised concerns the heat could be melting the above-average snowpack.
In this file photo, Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, holds his snow survey notes after performing the first manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. January's water content measured 130 percent of normal for that time of year, but a warm February has raised concerns the heat could be melting the above-average snowpack.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

New snowpack measurements have brought bad news for Californians hoping for an end to five years of drought.

State surveyors found Tuesday that the unusually warm, dry month of February ate away at what had been a well-above normal Sierra Nevada snowpack.

Chief surveyor Frank Gehrke says the latest measurements found snowpack at 105 percent of normal for this time of the year at Echo Summit. Statewide, the figure stood at just 83 percent of average.

That compares to 130 percent last month at Echo Summit.

The state is in its second year of mandatory water conservation owing to drought.

Mountain snowpack provides about one-third of overall water for California when it melts in the spring. Forecasters say a welcome series of storms could bring rain and snow back to the state this week.

Despite the dry spell in February, the Sierra is having a better snow year than at any point since 2011. The snowpack was just 19 percent last year, the lowest number on record, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Forecasters say California could still get plenty of El Niño rain in March and April. A strong storm is expected to come into Northern California this weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Water managers say they're focused on the April 1 snowpack, when it's historically at its deepest.

They say the snowpack needs be 150 percent of normal, signaling an easing drought.

This story has been updated.