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Sierra snowpack bigger than last four years combined, says NASA

A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California.
George Rose | Getty Images
A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California.

California's snowpack level is near a record high.

New data from NASA show that this past winter's snowpack levels in California's Tuolumne River Basin, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, are higher than they were in the last four years combined.

Melting snow along the Tuolomne is an important source of water for both California's Central Valley — the heart of California's agricultural sector, and the crowded San Francisco area.

On April 1, NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory measured the Tuolumne Basin snowpack at 1.2 million acre-feet, which NASA says is enough snow to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, nearly 1,600 times.

The snowpack is twice the volume of last year's, and 21 times larger than 2015's level, which was the lowest on record.

NASA's ASO is the only program that measures snow water equivalent, which is what it sounds like: the amount of water present in a measurement of snow. NASA found that combining April 1 snowpack measurements from 2013 through 2016 yielded 92 percent of the snow observed just this year.

In much of the Central Sierra, snow lies 25 feet deep (8 meters). In some high mountain basins, it's deeper than 80 feet (24 meters). And since April 1, it has continued to snow.

California has received heavy precipitation over the last several months, after the state endured one of the most severe multi-year droughts in the state's history.

While the rains offered a reprieve from years of drought, the heavy and frequent storms have flooded communities and damaged crops.

In spite of the rain, portions of the state are still at some level of drought, ranging from "abnormally dry" regions and pockets of "moderate drought" in Southern California, and one small strip of land near the borders with Mexico and Arizona, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.