Vacation homes on Donner Lake near Truckee after a fresh snow. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Vacation homes on Donner Lake near Truckee after a fresh snow. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

California’s snowpack, crucial to the state’s water supply because it melts in the spring to fill streams and reservoirs, is above normal for the first time since 2012, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Winter storms brought enough snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains to push the snowpack to 112 percent of normal for this time of year as of Wednesday, compared to 54 percent of normal in 2014 and 24 percent in 2013.

California is in its fourth year of crushing drought that has killed millions of trees and in 2015 alone cost the state’s agricultural economy $1.84 billion and 10,100 jobs, according to the University of California, Davis.

The El Niño weather and oceanic phenomenon, characterized by a warming of the Pacific Ocean that often brings precipitation to California, is expected to help ease the drought over the next few months, but experts caution that the state’s woes are far from over.

A warm winter, for example, could cause snow in the mountains to melt, leading to a shortage of water to melt in the spring in advance of the state’s dry, hot summer season.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared the drought to be an emergency, and last April he stood in a dry mountain meadow that normally would have been covered with five feet of snow to announce the first-ever statewide mandatory conservation measures for urban water users.

It would take months of above-average precipitation to make a significant dent in the drought, and water regulators have said the cutbacks may continue into next year.

The last time the snowpack topped its normal depth for Dec. 23 was in 2012, when it was 119 percent of normal. But by April of that year, the month when it is crucial for snow to be deep enough to carry the state through summer, it had fallen to just 54 percent of normal.

— Reuters

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.