18 May

Map of the Week: Sierra Nevada Snowpack

By Aaron Eben

California’s climate has long been characterized by its volatility and extreme weather patterns. In recent years, the state has experienced a devastating drought that challenged its water resources and raised concerns about water security. The state’s reservoirs had reached alarmingly low levels, affecting agriculture, communities, and ecosystems. However, the tides have turned, and California is now grappling with a surplus of snowfall that brings its own set of risks.

The Sierra Nevada, a vital source of water for the state, received an unprecedented snowpack this past winter, reaching historic levels. This map presents the average snow water of this range in the last 20 years to current levels. The surplus snowpack in California’s mountains poses significant risks as temperatures rise and snow begins to melt. The sheer volume of snow combined with accelerated melting can lead to vast river flows, increased flood risks, and potential threats to low-lying communities.

The introduction of advanced technology, such as remote sensing and high-resolution imaging is revolutionizing water management in California. The combination of aerial surveys, automated snow sensors, and manual ground surveys provides comprehensive and accurate data for watershed-scale accounting. These recent weather extremes exemplify the phenomenon of “climate whiplash” – rapid shifts between prolonged drought and extreme precipitation events. As the climate continues to warm, these challenges are likely to intensify, making it essential to adapt water management strategies accordingly.