January Snow Survey and Spring Rafting

Posted January 15, 2006 by Robyn Suddeth

We’ve seen an incredible amount of rain in the last few weeks, some of which even led to flooding on many of California’s rivers. This contrasted starkly with earlier winter months, which were so dry that ski resorts weren’t able to open on Thanksgiving. I was curious as to how those numbers were adding up in terms of overall snowpack, so looked on California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) website for a recent report.

I found a release dated January 4, 2006, in which DWR released their first snow survey for the year. The four survey locations in the Northern Sierras reported numbers ranging from 92% to 141% of the long term water content average, meaning that it would seem we’re having a fairly normal winter in terms of water content in the Northern Sierras. (It looks like those storms caught us up from earlier dry months!)

So on to the question in everyone’s minds: What does this mean for rafting come springtime?

The answer?? We wish we knew! It would be great if we could predict things that far into the future, but the truth is that what really matters is the water content in early March and the subsequent weather through to May.

The ideal situation (if you’re hoping for another high water year as I am) is an above-average snow pack in March with cold weather all through Spring. Too much warm weather early on melts all the snow before we really have a chance to enjoy those flows, and warm rains have the same effect.

The fact is that snow content can change quite a bit between now and early March. Department of Water Resources agrees, making a note that their January survey “is not particularly significant in judging how much spring snowmelt runoff may occur because Sierra conditions may change dramatically before spring arrives.”

What is good about current numbers, however, is that we do have an average base layer of snow there right now, so we’re not starting in the negative. If you want to keep an eye out for reports in March, just go to DWR’s California Water Page. In the meantime– pray for lots of snow and cold weather!


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