Northstar California Resort via AP
REDDING, Calif. — The big storms that have peppered California in December have slowly fed depleted reservoirs while pushing snow levels in the northern and central Sierra Nevada above normal for this time of year.
As of Dec. 22, the average snow-water equivalent of 10.5 inches in the central Sierra was 121 percent of normal for the date, while the average snow-water equivalent of 9.8 inches in the north was 118 percent of normal, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
That’s a big improvement over just a week earlier, when Central California had 83 percent of its normal snowpack for the date and Northern California had 81 percent, according to the DWR’s California Data Exchange Center.
“This last system was the warmer of the systems,” National Weather Service meteorologist Nathan Owen said Dec. 22, noting that a Christmas eve storm was expected to bring snow levels down to 1,500 feet.
Another system is set to arrive Dec. 27, although “the timing and strength of that are still kind of in question,” Owen said.
The snowpack can use all the help it can get considering that much of the winter is expected to be dominated by El Nino, whose southern storms usually bring higher-than-normal temperatures and snow levels.
The federal Climate Prediction Center envisions cooler-than-normal temperatures and below-average precipitation throughout much of the West over the next two weeks, with El Nino’s high rainfall amounts in the southern United States taking hold in early 2016.
Whatever happens between now and New Year’s Day, snow levels are sure to be better than they were on Dec. 30, 2014, when the Department of Water Resources’ first manual snow survey near Echo Summit found a snow-water equivalent of 4 inches, or 33 percent of average.
State officials found virtually no snow at all at that station on April 1, when the snowpack is typically at its peak.
The newfound abundance comes as a steady drumbeat of storms in recent weeks has given many areas of California more than their normal share of rainfall for December. As of Dec. 22, Redding sopped up 7.83 inches for the month, well above its normal 4.11 inches, while Saliinas’ 4.2 inches of rain since Oct. 1 is above its average of 3.21 inches for the period, the National Weather Service reports.
All the rain is helping reservoirs slowly emerge from near-record low water levels earlier in the fall. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the federal Central Valley Project, was at 30 percent of capacity on Dec. 21, up slightly from 29 percent on Dec. 1, according to the DWR.
Folsom Lake, which was holding a record-low 136,980 acre-feet of its 977,000 acre-foot capacity on Dec. 1, was up to 151,778 acre-feet on Dec. 21, the DWR reported.