Environment & Science

California mountain snowpack low, but it's early, officials say

The Sierra Nevada snowpack in a typical year provides almost a third of California's water supply. The levels currently stand at a quarter of typical for this time of year.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack in a typical year provides almost a third of California's water supply. The levels currently stand at a quarter of typical for this time of year.
Photo by Anirudh Rao via Flickr Creative

It's too soon to declare an end to California's five-year drought despite the heaviest rain in three decades falling early in the wet season, officials said Tuesday.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides roughly one-third of California's water supply, measures at 72 percent of normal for water content, according to the state's Department of Water Resources' electronic monitors.

The weather during next the three months will determine if California enters a sixth year of drought that has led residents to let their lawns turn brown and left some farmers without water to irrigate their crops.

"California needs sustained above-average precipitation and a decent snowpack to overcome the previous years of drought," State climatologist Michael Anderson said in a statement.

California had the wettest October in 30 years with heavy rains in the north end of the state, raising hopes of a robust wet season to follow. December delivered a rebound from below-average rain in November, he said.

Forecasters, however, say that they'll know better if California is rebounding from the yearslong drought by April 1, when the snowpack is typically its deepest and wettest.

State water monitors say they will trudge through the Sierra snowpack — now standing at 10.5 inches deep — to perform a manual survey of the snowpack Jan. 3.