Currently — April 5th, 2023

What you need to know, currently.

Following an onslaught of storms that started in December, California’s snowpack is at 237 percent of its April average, its highest level on record, according to the fourth snow survey of the season by the Department of Water Resources.

This huge amount of snowpack is due to historic blizzards and 17 atmospheric rivers—or narrow regions in the atmosphere that move most of the water vapor outside the tropics—which have devastated the state since December. A few non-atmospheric-river storms have also hit the state.

"This year's severe storms and flooding is the latest example that California's climate is becoming more extreme," DWR director Karla Nemeth said on Monday.

Some of these storms replenished the state’s critically low reservoirs and relieved some drought-stricken areas. In fact, the federal government’s latest drought monitor revealed that drought covered just 28 percent of California compared to almost 100 percent in October.

Governor Gavin Newsom rolled back some of the state’s most severe drought restrictions, including his July 2021 callout for a voluntary 15 percent reduction in water use.

Regardless, the storms also caused widespread flash flooding and levee breaches. Almost three dozen people died as a result.

Additionally, melting snow from the Sierra Nevada range continues to pose a severe flood risk to some areas, especially the San Joaquin Valley, which is largely drained by the San Joaquin River.

Other areas, like California’s central coast, are still recovering from floods and mudslides after the epic Pacific storms these last three months. Groundwater basins are also slow to recover, and many rural communities don’t have proper groundwater supplies.

“In April, we typically start to look at our snowpack in the mountain and high-elevation areas in anticipation of the snow melting into rivers and streams,” Currently’s Chief Meteorologist Megan Montero. “I happen to live in Colorado, which is home to the Colorado River Basin and where snow from the surrounding mountains feeds the Colorado River as it melts.”

You may have been hearing about the Colorado River more than usual lately, as it’s the river that is part of the water supply for states such as Nevada, Arizona, and California.

“What we typically worry about in terms of snowmelt for any water supply, be it a river or a stream, is when the snowpack is above normal (or in the case of California, dramatically above normal), the amount of snow melting becomes too much for the area to handle,” said Montero.

She continued: “If more water melts from the snow than a river or reservoir can handle, this can lead to flooding in nearby areas. This can wash away the ground in surrounding areas and even flood nearby homes and farmland and cause water damage.”

More swings between wet and dry conditions, also called “weather whiplash,” can be expected in the future, as long-term drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin will continue to impact millions of Californians’ water supply.

—Aarohi Sheth

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