After Two Dry Months, California’s Waterpack Swings From Feast To Famine

A warm early winter storm and record-setting Holiday snowfall put California’s snowpack at 150% of normal at the turn of the year, but the driest January and February on record have moved the pendulum the other way — the snowpack is now only 63% of normal.

With little in the way of precipitation in the forecast, it’s clear that California’s water users — and its steelhead, salmon and trout — could be facing a painful, low-water year (from the SacBee):

If February concludes without additional storms — and none are expected — the northern Sierra will have seen 2.2 inches of precipitation in January and February, the least since record-keeping began in the region in 1921.

That is well below the historical average of 17.1 inches.


The prospects for more rain this winter are not good. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center released a long-range forecast on Feb. 21, saying that the odds favor dry conditions across California and the Southwest through May.

Fortunately, it’s too early for fishermen to panic; California has experienced heavy late precipitation the last few years, and while you never want to find yourself counting on late storms to prop up a sub-par snowpack, it’s possible.

Should the water situation not improve dramatically, expect California’s reservoirs to end the rainy season far below capacity, leaving the water users and fish to deal with the consequences of too many promises for too little water.