The extreme drought that has triggered water shortages and stoked wildfires across California’s Sierra Nevada has finally come to an end as five metres of snow crushes record. With snow still falling at the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, at Donner Pass east of Sacramento, the month is set to become the snowiest December on record despite only falling for a short time.
Lab officials have report the snow as being “deep and hard to get through” taking them around 40 minutes to get to where the measurements are taken less than 50 metres away from the lab’s front door.
According to Lead Scientist and Station Manager of the Sierra snow laboratory, it was needed, and they are going to need more. Speaking to CNN he said: “While this event has been amazing so far, we are really concerned about the upcoming months not having as many storms. If we don’t get another inch, we’re still below what we would expect for the entire winter, which means that we can contribute to the drought rather than resolving it.”
California relies on the snowpack for its water, stored through the winter in the form of ice and snow and released slowly as temperatures warm up in the process filling the reservoirs. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the Sierra Nevada accounts for 30% of California’s fresh water supply in an average year.
They have welcomed the heavy falls saying that the snowpack in the Sierra was at alarmingly low levels at the end of last winter and reservoirs, which are replenished by spring snow melt, are still below the historical average.
They cite examples of reservoirs at 37% capacity when typically they are around 70% at this time of year with the Oroville hydroelectric power plant forced to shut down this summer, because of its low water level, for the first time since it opened in 1967.
California experienced the worst summer drought on record this year since records began 126 years ago, with July 2021 the driest on record.
Schwartz expects snowfall to decrease with global warming and he is finding what used to be snow now falling as rain. He said: “Ultimately, what’s happening right now in terms of climate change with our precipitation here on the summit is that we’re actually seeing increasing precipitation, but the difference is we’re seeing a reduction in snowfall and an increase in rain. So that matches our warming signal; with that warming, we have actually moved away from some of our snowfall.”
Scientists studying climate change and the weather say the phenomena is not just changing the severity of the weather, but also crucial weather patterns on which many countries and cities rely.
As five metres of snow crushes record Schwartz said he’s already seeing first-hand the grim consequences of the climate crisis in the Sierra Nevada. “Overall, the trends with climate change in the region is kind of a dire one with respect to snow, because we’re not going to have it for a whole lot longer,” he said. “So when we have months like this, I’m very excited for them.”
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