In the week before Christmas a “deep and fast-moving” storm system — a channel of wind in the atmosphere that transports water vapor from the tropics — pummeled parts of northwest California and Oregon. While the storm created major disruptions and threatened lives, indeed, it killed five people in three car crashes all involving downed trees, Oregon authorities said, the severe weather is bringing a welcome gift across the West, as the parched, mega-drought region is seeing the kind of snowpack that it hasn’t enjoyed in years. With back-to-back-to-back winter storms across the entire western area, the snowpack is thriving. In Central California, the Sierra stands at 200% of normal for snowpack average to date.
The drought monitor released some of the numbers Thursday, which showed some of the driest areas in the West with decent snow. Here is where the West stands as of right now for snowpack:
Great Basin 157%
Lower Colorado 152%
Pacific Northwest 134%
Upper Colorado 98%
“We’re looking fairly good up here at this point,” Andre Schwartz, research scientist at the University of California-Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory said. “We’re definitely above average, as far as how much snow we have on the ground.”
“We had this record-breaking number of 18 feet of snow or just under that, and then we had a January through March period, that was the driest on record,” Schwartz explained.
This year, more frequent, smaller storms – in combination with colder temperatures – have allowed the snow to stick better, as opposed to last year, when the snowpack completely melted between snowstorms, exposing dry ground again.
“The snow lover in me is very excited to see the snow come in, and I’m hopeful it means that we’re going to have a good season. The skeptic in me, and the person that worked through last year, is a little bit more hesitant,” Schwartz admitted.
Schwartz explained the key to a successful season is to have consistency.
“We don’t have to have every storm drop feet of snow. They could still be four to six inches at a time. But we just can’t have those super long dry periods where we see midwinter melt that doesn’t normally set us up with a whole lot of success,” Schwartz pointed out.
But not all the drought-ridden areas are in good shape. The Colorado River Basin is another area gaining a lot of attention–but for water shortages. They are counting on a good snowpack. Right now, most of the Colorado River Basin is running low. Parts of Arizona are only at 30% of normal.
Other areas, like Southwestern Colorado, are right where they should be this time of year, but it is still incredibly early in the season.