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Parts of the West have double the normal snowpack. Experts say it’s too early to get excited


By Jennifer Gray, CNN Meteorologist

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.

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%
  • California 135%
  • 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.”

But Schartz also urged us not to get too excited. If we’ve learned anything from last year, anything can happen. Take December 2021 as the perfect example.

“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.

The Colorado River Basin is another area gaining a lot of attention 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.

More snow expected this week

Both the Sierra and the Rockies will get hit with more snow this week as multiple storm systems traverse the West.

Snowfall totals for the highest elevations could end up in the one- to two-foot range this week. More widespread snow totals will be less than a foot.

After a snowy end to last week and a snowy weekend, another round is affecting the Rockies today through Wednesday.

“Snow totals from this second system are still favoring widespread 6+ inches of accumulation, with the highest terrain seeing upwards of a foot,” the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction said.

The Colorado River Basin and Sierra will need a lot more snow to end with an average season, but the steady stream of snow has been a good sign so far.

“I think there’s optimism because we’re starting with a really good foundation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to translate into help with a drought,” said Schwartz. “We still have time where it may not snow, and we may still wind up with below average precipitation, but so far, we’re looking pretty good.”

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CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink contributed to this story.

Article Topic Follows: cnn-weather/environment

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