Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the depth of the snowpack as he conducts the third manual snow survey of the season, at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif., Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Californians depend upon diminished snow for water
March 04, 2016
An unwelcome three-week winter dry spell has left the California snowpack at just 83 percent of average. That level is a setback for the state as it tries to break out of record drought. The level was noted by state snow surveyors on March 1.
In an icy meadow in California's central Sierra Nevada, state surveyor Frank Gehrke plunged poles into snowbanks. He measured how much snow was lost to a February with record warm temperatures and little rain.
Californians depend on snowfall for a third of their water. They had hoped this year's strong El Nino system would deliver heavy snow and rain.
After a wet December and January, however, sunshine and blue skies returned. They brought temperatures in the 90s to Southern California last month.
The year had a "very good start, and then . . . February just did not come through," Gehrke said.
Gehrke's measuring site showed snowpack at 105 percent of average. That is compared to 130 percent at the same spot the month before.
Statewide, snowpack was at 83 percent of normal, officials said.
California last year marked its driest four-year spell on record, leading Gov. Jerry Brown last April to order mandatory 25 percent water conservation for cities and towns. The conservation order remains in effect.
Officials say bringing the state out of drought would require snowpack at 150 percent of average by April 1.
December, January and February typically are the wettest months in California. However, late spring storm patterns dubbed "March Miracles" helped ease dry spells in 1991 and 1995, state Department of Water Resources officials noted.
Californians can still hope for such a miracle this week, when changing weather patterns promise to send a series of storms over the state, the National Weather Service said.
Forecasters expect as much as 7 inches of rain in Northern California in the coming days and heavy snow in the mountains.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Southern California had temperatures in the 90s. How can this region depend upon snow for water?
Write your answers in the comments section below