The snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada is at its historic low. Findings of a new study that reconstructed the seasonal snowpack stored in the mountain range over the past 500 years revealed that the end-of-wet-season snowpack on April 1 this year could be the lowest in five centuries.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday,Sept.14, described their discovery as "an ominous sign" of the severity of the record-setting drought in California that began in 2012.
Climate scientist Benjamin Cook, from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that the findings provide a piece in the puzzle of the overall picture of the exceptional drought happening in the state. What's worse is that experts said the low snowpack level could become the new normal in California.
Study researcher Eugene Wahl, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the historically low snowpack, low precipitation and increased temperatures occurring altogether in the state could indicate the much reduced snowpack could occur less rarely in the future.
Such condition could have crucial impact to California because this would mean less storage of water as snow. Sierra Nevada's snowpack replenishes water reservoirs that provide 30 percent of California's annual water supply. If snowpack levels get worse, it could have unwanted effects on the state's water supply.
Because of the key role snowpack plays in the state's water supply, state officials and researchers started monitoring it in the 1930's and established 108 measuring stations throughout Sierra Nevada. Researchers discovered that the April 1 snow water was equal to only 5 percent of the average since monitoring started.
"When we saw the April 1 snowpack numbers coming out and how they were at 5 percent of average since the 1930s, we discussed how someone should put that into a longer term context," said Valerie Trouet, from the University of Arizona in Tucson.
After the record-low snowpack was recorded, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered an unprecedented mandatory water restriction while standing on a dry Sierra Nevada meadow, where several feet of snow would usually sit.
"California is currently experiencing a record-setting drought that started in 2012 and recently culminated in the first ever mandatory state-wide water restriction," the researchers wrote in their study. "The ongoing and projected role of temperature in the amount and duration of California's primary natural water storage system thus foreshadows major future impacts on the state's water supplies."
Photo: Andy Armstrong | Flickr