Snowfall exceeds forecast, but water managers say it's too little
It's finally looking like ski season in California's Sierra Nevada as a late winter storm exceeded forecasts by dumping at least 6 feet of fluff at the highest elevations.
"It's still coming down really good," Rochelle Jenkins, a spokesman for Caltrans, said Thursday as crews worked around the clock to keep open Interstate 80, the main highway between Northern California and Nevada. "The valley is clear, but up here it's anything but."
The storm is sticking around longer and delivering more snow than predicted because it got "hung up on the mountains," said Johnnie Powell of the National Weather Service in Sacramento, Calif.
"It's a classic orographic lift," Powell said. "All a storm needs is lift and water. It hits the mountain and goes straight up. This one just stayed there on the mountains."
Powell said the weather service planned to lift the winter storm warning later Thursday, with the expectation that the snowfall would likely end around sunset.
Despite the heavy snowfall, California is far behind in amassing the amount needed to sustain water use in the arid state for the rest of the year. The state uses reservoirs and a system of aqueducts to deliver snowmelt to 28 million Californians who depend on it for all or part of their water.
Measurements on Thursday showed the water content of the snowpack at 34 percent of normal, the fourth-lowest reading since the 1940s, said Dave Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources. Last year at this time, the snowpack was 124 percent of normal and reached 165 percent by April 1.
"It's a nice change," Rizzardo said of the storm, "but the reality is we need a lot more."
The storm is bringing fresh powder to the ski resorts, but powdery snow lacks the moisture content that Rizzardo wanted to see. Snow in the state currently holds 8 inches of water, compared to 23 inches that would be normal by ...