"This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year," Cowin said. "Now, more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work."
The falling snow made things a little more enjoyable for snow surveyors Thursday as they took their monthly trek through the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe to measure California's frozen water supply.
But only a few inches of snow fell, and the mountains are mostly bare. Snow levels on Donner Summit, which normally has more snow than any other place, are the lowest since the 1800s, according to National Weather Service meteorologists.
The dismal measurements follow the driest calendar year in California since record-keeping began in 1849.
'Big wake-up call'
Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a drought emergency Jan. 17, told a Los Angeles television station Thursday that California is in a "mega-drought." In a meeting with Southern California water officials, he urged people to take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing their teeth and "don't flush more than you need to."
"Make no mistake, this drought is a big wake-up call," the governor said. "Every day this drought goes on, we're going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing."
Brown acknowledged that there is a geographic divide in state water politics - that Northern Californians resent sending their water to Southern California.
"I'm going to do my best to unite this state," Brown said. "Water is something that we share."
The Sierra snowpack is crucial for both regions. The spring melt is what the California Department of Water Resources relies upon to fill its reservoirs, irrigate millions of acres of farmland and quench the thirst of California's 38 million people.
Currently, Lake Oroville, the primary storage reservoir for the State Water Project, is at 36 percent of capacity, which is 54 percent of average for this time of year. The project provides water to 29 public agencies, which supply more than 25 million Californians and irrigate nearly 1 million acres of farmland.
The state's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, is only 36 percent full, or 53 percent of normal for this time of year. It is part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Central Valley Project.
Many of the state's other reservoirs are also getting dangerously low. The Sacramento City Council recently ordered residents in the northeastern part of the city to reduce water use by 20 to 30 percent amid fears that Folsom Lake could go completely dry. Mendocino County, which relies primarily on well water, has declared an emergency.
Numerous other cities and counties, including Marin and Sonoma, have called for voluntary water restrictions. Seventeen rural communities in California have said they will have severe water shortages within four months if things don't change.
Firefighters on alert
Meanwhile, fire danger is extreme throughout the state. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced this week that it had hired 125 extra firefighters in Northern California because of the dry winter conditions.
The dry spell could have an effect on environmental protections. Lawmakers are already threatening to weaken long-standing environmental rules.
Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of Tulare, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and David Valadao of Hanford (Kings County) introduced a bill this week that would, among other things, stop the restoration of the San Joaquin River.
The spritzer that rolled through dropped 0.23 of an inch of rain on Mount Hamilton, the most in the Bay Area. Rainfall in San Francisco this month hasn't even reached half of the record low for January.
"It's tough because everybody wants rain so much that you hear rains are on the way and everybody is going, 'Oh, it's finally here,' " said Austin Cross, a National Weather Service forecaster. "It's a little more than sprinkles, but not much more than the bottom of what's measurable. It doesn't even put a dent into what we are supposed to get for a season."