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Dire, Record Low Snowpack in California

By Climate Central

The beginning of April marks the end of the winter wet season across the West, the time of year when much of the region sees the bulk of its precipitation. But for the third winter in a row, that wet season has come up dry, extending the terrible drought that is now in its fourth year.

At the end of the rainy season, drought covers nearly two-thirds of the West and is affecting more than 52 million people, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The very worst drought conditions stretch across California up into southeastern Oregon and into Nevada.

That intense drought has built up over multiple years as a stubborn high pressure ridge has kept temperatures unusually high and blocked most of the storms that would normally bring rain and snow.

Precipitation over much of the Northwest, as well as eastern Colorado, northern Arizona, and New Mexico, was normal to above-normal. However, much of California, Nevada, and Utah saw much less precipitation than normal. The worst precipitation numbers, of course, coincide with the areas in the deepest stages of drought.

When storms did break through the ridge’s tight hold, the elevated temperatures across the region meant that most of what fell was rain, even at higher elevations that would normally see snow.

Ten western states had winters among their top 10 warmest, with five — California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Washington — recording their warmest winter ever. (California’s previous warmest winter was just last year.)

Mountain peaks that would normally be covered in snow were largely barren. That snow is crucial to providing a steady trickle of water into reservoirs as it melts during spring and summer.

For the West as a whole, the water contained in the snowpack was 48 percent lower than normal for April 1. California reported a record low snowpack that was a staggering 6 percent of normal for this time of year. The Cascades and Olympic ranges also had huge snow deficits.