(This story, originally published Tuesday, 3/31, has been updated)
The mountain snows so crucial to California’s water supply failed to come yet again this winter and the normally white-capped high peaks are mostly barren. As of April 1, California snowpack is a scary-low 5 percent of normal.
California governor Jerry Brown (D) has responded by mandating water restrictions across the state to reduce water usage by 25 percent, the first in the state’s history.
Snowpack measurements have been kept in California since 1950 and nothing in the historic record comes close to this year’s severely depleted level. The previous record for the lowest snowpack level in California, 25 percent of normal, was set both in 1976-77 and last winter (2013-2014).
In “normal” years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
California officials conducted a manual snow survey today at Phillips Station, a site the Sierra Nevada about 90 miles east of Sacramento. On April 1, the snowpack at this location averages 66.5 inches and is near its peak for the season. Today, there was bare ground.
“This was the first time in 75 years of early-April measurements at the Phillips snow course that no snow was found there,” the California Department of Water Resources said.
Plentiful snows in December got the winter of 2014-15 off to a promising start in the Sierra, but conditions regressed to extremely dry starting in January:
Several locations in interior central California had among their driest January-March periods on record:
The abnormally dry weather also extended to the coast. Rainfall in San Francisco for January-March totaled just 1.59 inches, the lowest in 165 years of records. Just 0.12 inches fell in March. San Jose, Santa Rosa, Livermore and Santa Cruz also had historically low rainfall totals in this period – on the order of 2-4 inches. (Information courtesy San Francisco-based meteorologist Jan Null)
Much of California has not only been dry but also unusually hot. The state had its warmest winter on record and scorching heat hit Southern California repeatedly in March.
Downtown Los Angeles hit 90F 6 times in March, shattering the previous record of 3 90-degree readings during the month in 1977. Los Angeles has logged just 2.79 inches of rain this calendar year compared to the normal value of 9.30 inches.
Redding, Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego all had their hottest average high temperatures on record during March.
Over 98 percent of California is mired in drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts the drought to persist if not intensify into the summer.