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article imageMore than 40 percent of California experiencing moderate drought

By Karen Graham     Feb 2, 2018 in Environment
On Thursday, scientists announced more than 40 percent of California is experiencing a moderate drought, while state water officials confirmed lower-than-normal snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada.
After the California Department of Water Resources' (DWR) dismal first "official" snow survey in January that came out only 3.0 percent of average for the month, officials were hopeful February's survey would be much better.
The DWR was saying on its website in January that California’s wettest months are December through February, so there was still time for Mother Nature to build her mountain “reservoir” and eventually provide the runoff California needs when it melts. But things are not looking good.
On Thursday, researchers from the DWR again headed into the Sierra Nevada to measure water content and snow levels at Phillips Station, a former post office, and stagecoach stop near Lake Tahoe. "This year it's going to be pretty stark," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. "There's not going to be a lot of snow on the ground."
Grant Davis  Director of the California Department of Water Resources  left  assists Frank Gehrke  C...
Grant Davis, Director of the California Department of Water Resources, left, assists Frank Gehrke, Chief of the Calif. Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, with the first snow survey of the 2018 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
DWR
And Swain was right. Frank Gehrke, the chief of the state water survey, measured the snow depth at Phillips at 13.6 inches, with 2.6 inches of water content—about 14 percent of the average. While the readings were somewhat better than last month's readings, they are still below normal for this time of year. On the DWR website, it is also noted that little snowpack was found, which was predictable after a dry December throughout the state.
Survey results from the central Sierra fared the best with a snow-water equivalent (SWE) of 5.8 inches representing 30 percent of the average. SWE is the depth of water that would theoretically result if the entire snowpack melted at once.
Gehrke remains optimistic, though. “The snow survey today shows water content far below average for this time of year,” said Gehrke. “Today’s measurements indicate an anemic snowpack to date, but there is still the possibility of a wet February and March.”
The second snowpack survey of 2018 was conducted on February 1.
The second snowpack survey of 2018 was conducted on February 1.
DWR
“California experiences the most variable weather in the nation,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “It’s vital that water conservation efforts remain consistent regardless of the year’s precipitation.”
Drought conditions returning
California’s exceptionally high precipitation last winter and spring have resulted in above-average storage in 154 reservoirs tracked by the Department. DWR estimates total storage in those reservoirs at the end of January was 24.7 million acre-feet (MAF), or 106 percent of the 23.4 MAF average for this time of year.
Despite the state's reservoirs being full, scientists on Thursday declared 40 percent of California to be in moderate drought conditions, while Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, which hold nearly a quarter of the state's population, were rated in severe drought, according to ABC News.
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U.S. Drought Monitor
Southern California has been experiencing rain-less skies and record temperatures this week, and that does not bode well because Los Angeles and some surrounding areas have received only one rainfall that amounted to anything in the past year.
The lack of rain and abnormally dry conditions are blamed for the December wildfire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. When it finally did rain, the storm triggered mudslides that people are still dealing with after 21 people died. And while residents don't want another storm like the one they just lived through, they know the rains are needed.
Governor Jerry Brown lifted the drought state of emergency in April 2017, but it wasn't fully considered over until September. And last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that 13 percent of California was experiencing drought conditions, and this week, it has jumped to 40 percent. As of Thursday, state officials have not announced any new water-saving measures.
More about California, Drought, snowpack survey, 27 percent of normal, atmospheric rivers
 
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