Climate

California water officials warn state could face third consecutive dry year as early snowpack dissipates

Key Points
  • California water officials warned on Tuesday that the state is set to face another dry year after experiencing a significant lack of snow in January, potentially marking its third consecutive year of dry conditions.
  • The state's overall snowpack measures 92% of average for this time of year, an extraordinary drop from the 160% of average that was recorded a month ago, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.
  • The department's warning comes as California grapples with worsening wildfire seasons, water shortages and historic drought conditions fueled by climate change.
In an aerial view, dry cracked earth is visible at Nicasio Reservoir on June 16, 2021 in Nicasio, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

California water officials warned on Tuesday that the state is set to face another dry year after experiencing a significant lack of snow in January, potentially marking its third consecutive year of dry conditions.

The state's overall snowpack measures 92% of average for this time of year, an extraordinary drop from the 160% of average that was recorded a month ago, according to a release by the California Department of Water Resources. Officials are forecasting that by the end of the month, California's reservoirs will have 76% of average water storage for this time of year.

The department, which conducted its second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station, located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, advised residents to focus on water conservation, since most of California's reservoirs are below-average and groundwater supplies are still recovering.

"We are definitely still in a drought. A completely dry January shows how quickly surpluses can disappear," DWR's director Karla Nemeth said in a statement. "The variability of California weather proves that nothing is guaranteed and further emphasizes the need to conserve and continue preparing for a possible third dry year."

The department's warning comes as California grapples with historic drought conditions fueled by climate change. It also comes after a year during which California experienced the second-largest wildfire in state history.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked residents to curb household water consumption by 15% amid the prolonged drought and record-breaking temperatures.

The state gets most its water during the winter months when storms bring snow to the mountain ranges. Since California saw minimal snowmelt in January, officials said that a return of winter storms in the Sierra Nevada is needed over the next couple months to remain at or above normal levels of snowpack.

"These dry January conditions demonstrate the importance of continuing to improve our forecasting abilities and why these snow surveys are essential," said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR's Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit.

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