That three-day winter storm that ended late Saturday and early Sunday brought at least 4 feet of snow to high elevations of the Stanislaus River and Tuolumne River watersheds, but a manual survey and sensors Monday showed Sierra Nevada snowpack still well below average.
In spite of deep, white blankets of pristine powder that blanketed the Highway 4, 108 and 120 corridors and multiple watersheds at higher elevations in the Central Sierra, the region’s snow water equivalent as of Monday was just 11.5 inches. That’s 43 percent of average for early March.
For the entire Sierra Nevada range, the snow water equivalent was 9.4 inches, 39 percent of normal for this time of year. Snow water equivalent is the amount of water snowpack would yield if it melted all at once.
Snow brought thousands of visitors up Highway 108 on Sunday, the first sunny day in the wake of the most significant winter storm so far this season. The crush of day-trippers and snow-seekers brought a welcome rush of trade to mountain businesses from Twain Harte to Dodge Ridge and Strawberry.
But one storm can’t make up for what’s been a drier than normal winter so far, in terms of snowpack or in terms of tourism, the Mother Lode economy’s lifeblood.
Wednesday through Sunday, Sonora received 2.88 inches of rain and Columbia got 3.34 inches, Tom Dang with the National Weather Service in Sacramento said Monday.
Arnold got 18 inches of snow during the three-day storm, Bear Valley got 34 inches of snow, Tuolumne got 2 inches, Twain Harte got 20 inches, Dodge Ridge got 66 inches and Groveland got 4.5 inches.
Another system expected late Wednesday into Thursday could bring light rain to Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, but most precipitation is expected to fall north of Highway 88 and U.S. 50, Dang said. There’s a better chance for more rain and snow in the Mother Lode with a system expected late Saturday or early Sunday.
A manual survey Monday at Phillips Station 90 miles northeast of Sonora showed big change between Feb. 28 and March 5. Snow depth increased from 13 inches to 41.1 inches. Water content increased from 1.7 inches to 9.4 inches, but that’s still just 39 percent of average.
With below-average snowpack in mind, staff with the state Department of Water Resources say it’s imperative people continue conserving the state’s most vital resource.
“California has unquestionably experienced a dry winter this year, with a near-record dry February,” Karla Nemeth, director for the Department of Water Resources, said Monday after the Phillips Station survey.
“While we’re happy to kick off March with this healthy storm, the variability of this winter’s weather patterns underscores the importance of continued conservation and the ongoing need to strengthen California’s water supply reliability for our people, our economy, and our environment,” Nemeth said.
Ample rain and snow last winter and spring means the Golden State has above-average storage in 154 reservoirs tracked by the Department of Water Resources. Total storage at the end of February was 24.6 million acre feet.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.