Millerton Lake’s Spectacular Waterfall Spectacle: A Result of Third Wettest Year on Record

For more than a week there’s been a beautiful waterfall spilling over Friant Dam.

That’s because Millerton Lake is full to the brim. A water volume of 1,650 cubic feet per second (CFS) is creating the water blanket.

Opinion: Drought and Flood, California’s Double Whammy

Just as federal officials were laying out alternative scenarios last week for steep water supply cuts from the Colorado River due to the drying Southwest, California officials were warning that this year’s historic Sierra snowpack could flood much of the state later this year.

California’s Water Battles Continue Despite Record Rain and Snow

On Monday, California water officials slogged through deep snow 7,000 feet above sea level, west of Lake Tahoe, to affirm what everyone already knew: A series of Pacific storms has generated record-level amounts of precipitation, filling reservoirs, inundating low-lying towns and fields and threatening more disastrous flooding as the Sierra snowpack melts.

Opinion: California’s Water Battles Continue Despite Record Rain and Snow

On Monday, California water officials slogged through deep snow 7,000 feet above sea level, west of Lake Tahoe, to affirm what everyone already knew: A series of Pacific storms has generated record-level amounts of precipitation, filling reservoirs, inundating low-lying towns and fields and threatening more disastrous flooding as the Sierra snowpack melts.

Its negative aspects aside, the immense amount of rain and snow is welcome relief from drought that has plagued the state for the past three years.

Opinion: Newsom Denies the Obvious: California is No Longer in Drought

Gov. Gavin Newsom came close but couldn’t quite bring himself to say it: The drought’s over.

It’s disappointing when a governor won’t acknowledge what ordinary citizens already know because they can see things for themselves.

Another drought will emerge soon enough. It always does. That’s the California pattern — climate change or not.

Storm Threatens California With More Torrential Rain, Possible Flooding

Millions of Californians were under threat on Thursday from an approaching storm that could trigger intense downpours and widespread flooding in many parts of the state, including in some mountainous areas already buried under a near-record snowfall.

After a weeks of unusually bad weather on the West Coast, the storm known as an atmospheric river could dump as much as 3 inches (8 cm) of rain in the San Francisco Bay area and across the Central Coast from Thursday through the weekend, the National Weather Service (NWS) said in its forecast.

Colorado River and Lake Mead Are Rising, but Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

Northern California reservoirs and the Sierra snowpack were dramatically bolstered by the string of recent storms, and that’s good news for millions of people across the state.

Just not necessarily those who live in San Diego.

snow survey-Sierra Nevada snowpack-drought-Phillips Station

Snow Survey: Good Start but Drought Relief Depends on Coming Months

The California Department of Water Resources first manual snow survey of the season Tuesday at Phillips Station recorded 55.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 17.5 inches, which is 177% of average for the location. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Statewide the snowpack is 174% of average for this date.

Survey: December storms delivered big snow totals

California is expected to see continued rain and snow over the next seven days, with the threat of flooding in parts of California. Conditions so far this season have proven to be strikingly similar to last year when California saw some early rainstorms and strong December snow totals only to have the driest January through March on record.

“The significant Sierra snowpack is good news but unfortunately these same storms are bringing flooding to parts of California,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate.”

One year ago, the Phillips survey showed the seventh highest January measurements on record for that location. However, those results were followed by three months of extremely dry conditions and by April 1 of last year, the Phillips survey measurements were the third lowest on record.

More telling than a survey at a single location are DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout the state. Measurements indicate that statewide, the snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 17.1 inches, or 174%  of average for January 3.

Opportunities to save more water

“After three consecutive years of drought, the recent series of storms is a good start to the season,” said Jeff Stephenson, water resources manager with the San Diego County Water Authority. “However, we had a similarly strong early winter last year, which did not continue. While the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have worked and continue to develop diverse water supply sources, there are still opportunities, including rebates, to save more water.”

In San Diego County,, provides sources of residential and business rebates, including indoor and outdoor incentives, and free landscape makeover classes. 

Stephenson added that the region has reduced its reliance on imported water supplies, including from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, which means more of that source is available for other parts of California.

Strong start but “a long way to go”

The January 2023 manual snow survey results are similar to results in 2013 and 2022 when the January 1 snowpack was at or above average conditions, only for dry weather to set in and lead to drought conditions by the end of the water year (September 30).

In 2013, the first snow survey of the season also provided promising results after a wet December similar to today’s results. However, the following January and February were exceptionally dry, and the water year ended as the driest on record, contributing to a record-breaking drought. In 2022, record-breaking December snowfall was again followed by the driest January through March period on record.

“Big snow totals are always welcome, but we still have a long way to go before the critical April 1 total,” said DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman. “It’s always great to be above average this early in the season, but we must be resilient and remember what happened last year. If January through March of 2023 turn out to be similar to last year, we would still end the water year in severe drought with only half of an average year’s snowpack.”

Sierra snowpack supplies 30% of California’s water

On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs and is an important factor in determining how DWR manages the state’s water resources. Its natural ability to store water is why the Sierra snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir.” A below-average snowpack impacts water users across the state, putting further stress on the environment and critical groundwater supplies.

Due to these increasing swings from dramatically wet to dry conditions, Governor Newsom’s recently released “California’s Water Supply Strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future” calls for investing in new projects and technologies that will modernize how the state manages water.

Current climate research indicates the state will see bigger swings from extreme heat and dry conditions to larger and more powerful storms that deliver temporary large boosts to the state snowpack as well as flood risk.

DWR encourages Californians to visit for water saving tips and information, and to continue to conserve California’s most precious resource, rain or shine. DWR conducts five snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, May. The next survey is tentatively scheduled for February 1.

Parts of the West Have Double the Normal Snowpack. Experts Say it’s Too Early to Get Excited

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas across the West, and for the parched mega-drought region, the December snow is a welcome gift. With back-to-back-to-back winter storms across the West, the snowpack is thriving. Parts of the Sierra and the Pacific Northwest are seeing above-average snowpack for this time of year. In Central California, the Sierra stands at 200% of normal for snowpack average to date.

Sierra Snowpack is Exceptional, but Last Year’s Memories Haunt California

The Sierra snowpack vital to supplying water for California’s residents, businesses, and farms is off to a strong start. Recent storms bringing rain to the Valley and other parts of the state are also dumping snow on the Sierra Nevada. According to the state Department of Water Resources, the northern Sierra snowpack is 155% of normal through Monday. Meanwhile, the central Sierra and southern Sierra snowpacks are 166% and 216% of normal, respectively.