Season's first snow survey provides bleak outlook


It doesn’t take a weather expert to know that this region looks like summer, feels like spring, and has not even experienced anything resembling winter yet. In fact, the entire state is experiencing one of the driest starts to winter ever recorded, proven by the cloudless skies and temperatures that have been at or near record highs on a daily basis.

As if anyone needed confirmation that conditions are dry, it was reiterated last week when on January 3 the California Department of Water Resources conducted its first Sierra Nevada snow survey of the season. The results, however, are eye-opening: The snowpack is 20 percent of average for the date across the mountain range.

That means this is the driest ever-recorded January. There was another really dry January that rivaled this total, in 2012, and that marked the first of two dry winters. Now, it’s looking as though a third consecutive – 2013-2014 – is looming.

The Sierra Nevada range is where the state of California gets its water – for domestic use, for agriculture. Inflow from snowmelt into reservoirs is like money in the bank, except currently no deposits are being made into these state and federal water projects.

The state’s worst drought year in modern history is considered to be 1976-77. Currently, inflow into the state’s reservoirs, which is how water agencies mostly determine allocations, is at lower levels. Here are percentages of capacity at some of the state’s reservoirs: Lake Shasta, 36 percent (56 percent of its seasonal average), Folsom Lake, 18 percent (36 percent of average), Pine Flat Reservoir, 17 percent (41 percent of average), Lake Isabella, 11 percent (38 percent of capacity).

Closer to home, Lake Kaweah is at 17 percent of capacity. As of Tuesday, Jan. 7, the storage at Lake Kaweah was 11,500 acre feet (out of 185,000); the mean inflow was 51 cubic feet per second and the outflow was 18.

“For the time being, the lake level will continue to rise slightly,” said Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah general manager. “But if we don’t have rain soon the pool in the basin will shrink even smaller.”

On New Year’s Eve, the National Weather Service predicted that California would experience below-average rainfall for January. In the past, there have been fabulous Februaries, miracle Marches, and awesome Aprils, but even if a deluge of precipitation arrives, the region will still emerge from winter with two of its wettest months — December and January — missing in action.

The last measurable rainfall in Three Rivers was December 7.

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