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Geologist weighs in on importance of California's snowpack

Snowpack in California
Posted at 5:10 PM, Apr 21, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — California's snowpack is more than two-and-a-half times larger than average right now, according to the state's Dept. of Water Resources. As the weather gets warmer, it's going to melt. Geologists say there's no question we needed the snow.

"The melting of snow has always been important every single year in California," said Geologist Dr. Pat Abbott.

This comes as the latest U.S. Drought Monitor update shows almost two-thirds of the state is drought-free, a huge improvement over the past few months. Unfortunately the snowpack can't guarantee we'll stay that way.

"Drought is part of California," said Dr. Abbott. "We've had a temporary respite. That doesn't mean it's come and gone. It will be back sooner than we would like."

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The snow can be a valuable shield against wildfires, but only if it melts slowly.

"Plants stay healthy longer, they're hydrated and it's longer for them to catch on fire," said Dr. Abbott. "If we have a massive heat wave, say in early June, and all that snow is melted and gone, the plants don't get more water and start drying out. By the time we get to the end of the summer, it's easier for them to ignite. The bigger the fires are, the greater the challenge is for our firefighters."

A quick melt can also overwhelm places near the Sierra Nevada that got more rain than they could handle this winter. That includes places like Tulare Lake. It was dry for years until this winter. Now, it's more than 100 square miles in size and flooding communities around it.

The area is expecting even more flooding when the snowpack melts. But Dr. Abbott says floods like this are a necessary risk for water the state has needed for years.

"The snow we've gotten this winter, absolute positive," said Dr. Abbott. "On the other side, nothing is ever 100%."

Dr. Abbott says the snow is helping fill Northern California's reservoirs, which helps our water supply. But San Diego County gets most of its water from the Colorado River, which remains near historic lows.