The snow survey team on Tuesday at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. Courtesy California Department of Water Resources
The snow survey team on Tuesday at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. Courtesy California Department of Water Resources

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada began the new year at an “very encouraging” 70 percent of normal with more winter rain forecast across California.

Data released Tuesday by the California Department of Water Resources showed a slightly higher snowpack in the south, and lower levels in the central and north Sierra.

The department noted that January and February are two of California’s three historically wettest months, so the first measurement of the year doesn’t shed much light on how wet the season ultimately will be.

“Keep in mind we had pretty much bare ground here about a week ago, with a few patches of snow,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, after measurements at the Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. “Most of the snow we measured today came down in the last couple days and is continuing to come down.”

Gehrke said that with forecasters predicting a series of storms stretching into next week, the snowpack will likely grow.

“I can see us being potentially at average once that series of storms moves through,” he said. “I think it’s a very encouraging start to the winter.”

The snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer.

Acting Department of Resources Director Bill Croyle said California’s reservoirs are in good shape thanks to above-average precipitation since October. Overall they were at 98 percent of their historical average on Dec. 31, and  the largest, Lake Shasta, was at 118 percent, up from 50 percent a year ago.

“Precipitation and storage are doing quite well compared to the past five years of historic drought conditions,” Croyle said, “and that makes us cautiously optimistic about water conditions, although some areas in California are still hit hard by the drought and require a response.”

Chris Jennewein

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