Frank Gehrke leads the state team performing the manual snowpack measurement at the Phillips Station. Photo by Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources
Frank Gehrke leads the state team performing the manual snowpack measurement at the Phillips Station. Photo by Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

The vital Sierra Nevada snowpack continues to build during one of the wettest winters in California’s history, measuring 185 percent of normal on Wednesday.

The state Department of Water Resources‘ official manual measurement at the Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe showed 43.4 inches of snow water equivalent, compared to an average for March 1 of 24.3 inches. Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would result if the snow instantly melted.

“It’s not the record, the record being 56.4, but still a pretty phenomenal snowpack,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, after completing the measurement. “January and February came in with some really quite phenomenal atmospheric river storms, many of which were cold enough to really boost the snowpack.”

Electronic readings from 98 stations scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada show a statewide average of 45.5 inches, or 185 percent of the normal reading on March 1.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson said the winter season has been “historic,” especially in the central and southern Sierra where elevations are higher and where snowfall has been near the 1983 record amount.

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

Despite the near-record snowpack, parts of California are still experiencing a drought because groundwater supplies will require more than one wet year to be replenished.

Chris Jennewein

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