Snow-surveying crews across the Sierra are seeing bad news up close this week. California has about half a snowpack.
Skiing, snowshoeing or riding helicopters, the crews are making their way to high-elevation meadows for the most important snow measurement of the year.
April 1 is the unofficial end of the snowfall season — this year, following a miserably dry January, February and March. City officials, industry leaders and farmers will get a good idea of how much water to expect when the snow melts.
Reports won’t be finished for a few days, but California already has reason to be disappointed. Big storms of November and December built the snowpack to 140% of average on Jan. 1. Now automated snow sensors show it is 54%.
The snowpack was only 46% of average at this point last March — meaning the state had two bad years in a row. There’s no state drought emergency because reservoirs still hold about an average amount of water.
But the “d” word is filtering into conversations among weather experts.
“We’re in a meteorological drought,” said meteorologist Paul Iniguez of the National Weather Service in Hanford. “We had record-setting dry months for some places in California during January and February.”
Fresno’s low rainfall totals aren’t setting records, but the city is only 54% of average with 5.19 inches so far. This month, Fresno has gotten about one-third of an inch of rain, well below the average of 1.71 inches.
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