California's drought may be over, but L.A. has been in a dry spell for the past 10 months.
The Department of Water Resources is headed up to Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, where scientists measure the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It's the first of five measurements they'll conduct this year and it's one of the ways they can tell how wet —or dry—the whole state is.
Chris Orrock with the California Department of Water Resources set the scene at Phillips Station.
"There's snow on the ground here. It's not as much as we had last year, but there is snow," said Orrock. "It snowed up here about a week and a half ago and these are the remnants of it."
Though Wednesday is the state's first manual measurement of the Sierra Snowpack, we already have an idea of where we stand right now.
Electronic sensors are showing statewide snowpack is only 27 percent of the norm for this time of year. So at the dawn of 2018, are we already in an abnormally dry year?
UCLA's Gonzalo Cortés spoke to A Martinez via Skype to put the snowpack measurement in context.
"When we go to the mountains and measure the snowpack, we're getting a hint of how much water we'll have available during the spring season and during the summer season which is the season when we usually use most of this water."
Though it's an important indicator of the state of California's water, it's but a piece of the puzzle:
- Snowpack—"You can think of the Sierra Nevada as one of the reservoirs we have. So if there's a lot of snow in the Sierra Nevada then that means that natural reservoir is full, if there's little snow it means its empty and we have to rely on other reservoirs."
- Soil moisture—"We had a very dry and warm December so that means many areas that are usually humid in terms of soil moisture are now really dry, so that means that there's less water available for vegetation and when the rain finally comes, that rain will directly go into the groundwater because the soil is so dry."
- Snowfall—"During the rest of the winter what is important as well is to have the initial snowpack layer, the one that we don't have now, that serves as a buffer for upcoming storms. Not only important how much snow there is, also important when that snow falls over the mountain because that protects the snow for the rest of the season."
Overall, Cortés says it's really too early to tell whether this will end up being a wet or dry year. It isn’t until the end of the wet season that it can be said with more certainty.