SACRAMENTO — The California snowpack’s dip below normal levels could be short-lived if an anticipated March pattern of cold and wet storms continues through the month.
The unusually warm afternoons in February that hastened the almond blossom and development of other tree crops left a statewide snow water content that was 80 percent of normal as of March 3, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
“Our snowpack, snowfall and precipitation were quite a bit below average for the month of February,” DWR snow surveys chief Frank Gehrke told reporters after conducting his third manual survey of the season March 1 at Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento.
“Quite remarkably, very clear, sunny weather has contributed to a premature melt of the snowpack,” he said. “Now obviously we’re better than last year, but we’re still way below what would be considered adequate for any reasonable level of recovery at this point.”
Fortunately, with a new month came a major change in the weather pattern for Northern and Central California, as the National Weather Service’s longer-range outlooks snow that periodic storms are likely through at least mid-March if not later.
Some of these storms could bring lower snow levels, which would bode well for replenishing snow that has melted.
“It’s still too early to say if the whole month will be a ‘Miracle March,’” said Michelle Mead, an NWS warning coordinator in Sacramento. “With the progressive pattern looking like it will continue … we’re definitely seeing signs that March could be at — if not above — average, which would be a good thing because we had much below average for February.”
The change in weather patterns have some hoping for a repeat of 1991, when March rain and snow was 250 percent of normal and water in reservoirs quadrupled. The federal Climate Prediction Center envisions above-average precipitation throughout California in March, with much of the state maintaining above-average chances of rain and snow over the next three months.
California’s major reservoirs could still use the boost. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the federal Central Valley Project, was at 61 percent of capacity and 83 percent of normal as of March 3, while the State Water Project’s Lake Oroville was at 53 percent and 76 percent, respectively, according to the DWR.