Record Snowpack in the West

It has been an amazing year for snowpack in the West, especially for California, the Southwest and the Great Basin. Utah broke its record for the year with the highest snow water content and many ski resorts in the Sierra and Wasatch mountains have set new records for snow fall. The part I want to focus on in this post is the spring flooding that is coming along with its impact on first cutting.

To illustrate what an exceptional year it has been these maps shows the snow depths on March 29 for this year and last year. As you can see the amount of snow in 2023 is outstanding. This has been helped by cold temperatures that have persisted into late March. Washington has had an average winter but you can see how much longer the snow has lasted compared to last year.

Those in Utah will remember the floods of 1983. This year’s snowpack has broken the record set that year. Now the big question will be how fast will it warm up? There are some forecaster saying a warm up could be coming in ten days around April 10. For most this will mean a latter start to the season with hay being more weedy. By the time growers get to many fields they will be overgrown and test results will be down. At the same time most growers will now get a full allocation of water. The two areas in question are the Klamath Basin and the Colorado River. As you can see in the above map the snowpack looks promising. As we speak another large storm is move in and is expected to put down multiple feet of snow in the Southern Cascade mountains and in Utah. But all of the this pales in comparison the next graph.

This graph pertains to the Tulare Basin, which can be described roughly as the area south of Kingsburg California to Bakersfield and includes the Kings, Tule, Keweah and Kern rivers. The natural outlet for this rivers is Lake Tulare which in high water years could flow into the San Joaquin river through the Fresno Slough. As you can see the current water in the snowpack of the Tulare drainage basin is roughly 2.5X the reservoirs storage capacity. This is crazy to think about and means these four rivers will be flowing high well into the summer. It is a shame that more storge isn’t available to capture all of this water. This next graph is the same just for the entire Sierra mountain range and respective reservoirs. As you can see there is a lot of water in those mountains.

The below satellite picture shows the flooding shaded in blue around the Tulare lake area. You can see most of the water is around the city of Corcoran and the south end of the lake. Unless the melting is slow and the ground is able to take in more water there is a good chance more of this lake will fill. There have been a lot of grain hay acres and other crops damaged from these floods. Dairies in the region have been evacuated from flooding or from the roads being unpassable by milk trucks.

These next two maps highlight how wet and cold this winter has been. You can see that for good portions of California, Nevada, and Utah this has been the wettest October through March in the last 128 years. It has been very wet for portion of Colorado and Arizona as well which should help the Colorado River. The shortage in that river system won’t be solved by one good Winter.

This next map illustrates how cold it has been. For most of the West it has been a top 25 or top 10 year. If you just look at March it as been the coldest March for parts of Nevada and Northern California. It also shows how warm the East as been and the continued drought in parts of the Southern Plains.

And finally the current snow-water equivalent in the West. Thanks for reading! If there are topics that I want to highlight with many graphs or pictures I will do it here going forward. I know many like to print the report so I don’t want to clutter the report and waster ink. I though this information was good and found some good sources for graphs. Thanks, Josh