Statewide snowpack trends below average


After a paltry one-half inch of rain in Kaweah Country for the month of February that little waif El Nino appears to waking from a midwinter slumber. The stalled ridge of high pressure that has been blocking Pacific moisture and deflecting it north of California has now moved eastward.

The migratory effect of the moving air mass has opened the storm door and this weekend the first of a series of storms will enter California and move across the Sierra Nevada. On Friday night, March 4, the leading edge will remain on the warm side, which means snow levels will be at elevations above 8,000 feet.

But by Saturday, a decidedly colder air mass will bring some high winds and lots of moisture to the foothills and mountains. Higher elevations around Tahoe and Mammoth are expecting several feet of snow. 

In Kaweah Country, the foothills could receive more than two inches of rain and that means snow by the foot for the higher elevations of Sequoia National Park.

March 1 snow survey— State water officials released the current snow totals for March 1 and it was not the good news they were hoping for after an encouraging start to 2016. The January 1 statewide totals were 105 percent above average, February 1 was 112 percent, but the March 1 numbers have since plunged to 80 percent below the norm statewide — and 72 percent of the April 1 norm — due to February’s lack of precipitation and warm temperatures.

In the southern Sierra, the snowpack numbers averaged 72 percent of the March 1 norm and 63 percent of the April 1 norm. In a normal year, April 1 marks the season’s benchmark because that’s typically when the snowpack peaks before beginning to melt. 

Department of Water Resources officials say that the statewide snowpack would need to be 150 percent of average on April 1 to make any progress toward ending California’s drought.  

The statewide readings suggest this may not be a drought-busting year unless California receives heavy rain this month as it did during the Miracle Marches of 1991 and 1995.

Storm forecast— Locally, the stormy, unstable weather is expected to begin Saturday with the heaviest precipitation late Sunday night and into Monday. By Tuesday, March 8, the overcast skies will relent to some sunshine and expose the fresh snow in Giant Forest, atop Moro Rock, on Alta Peak, and along the Great Western Divide. 

Seven-day models are showing another chance for storminess beginning March 11.              

Lake Kaweah on the rise— As of Thursday, March 3, Lake Kaweah storage was 37,812 acre feet and rising about one foot in elevation per day. That represents approximately 22 percent of the basin’s capacity; the larger reservoirs in Northern California are currently holding between 50 and 75 percent of capacity.

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