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SACRAMENTO — It seems El Niño wasn’t enough to give the state a snowpack that met historical averages. The Department of Water Resources announced Wednesday that the statewide water content of the mountain snowpack was only 87 percent of the March 30 historical average.
Typically, the snowpack reaches its peak depth and water content around April 1, after which the snow begins to melt as the sun’s path across the sky moves a little further north each day.
The snowpack did vary by location. Phillips station off Highway 50, near Lake Tahoe, measured 58.4 inches of snow and a water content of 24.4 inches or 87 percent of normal. It’s a dramatic improvement from last year when there was no snow at the station.
Other stations across Northern California ranged from 106 percent of normal to 94 percent of normal.
Electronic readings of northern Sierra Nevada snow conditions found water content at 97 percent of average for March 30. In the central region water content came in at 88 percent of average and 72 percent in the southern region.
Despite being below the historical average, the numbers are much better than the past four years. Last year, the water content of the snowpack was only five percent of normal, the lowest dating back to 1950.
In normal years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.
“While for many parts of the state there will be both significant gains in both reservoir storage and stream flow, the effects of previous dry years will remain for now,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program in a release.