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Officials: Snowmelt flood fears creep into state's water outlook for 2023

First Alert Weather Forecast for Thursday morning
First Alert Weather Forecast for Thursday morning 02:19

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nothing epitomizes Mother Nature's schizophrenic grip on California more than the latest snow survey results from the state's water officials.

The epic 22 days of rains in late December and early January has left behind near historic levels of snow in the Sierra and greatly eased the severe drought conditions of the last three years.

Nine atmospheric rivers roared through Northern California over that time span, dumping 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow on the state, allowing state water managers to boost water supplies for farms and cities.  

But is it too much snow?

"Large snow totals like today are a welcome sight but also present new challenges for water managers as they walk the fine line between water supply and flood control," said DWR's Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman.

Wednesday's second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station recorded 85.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 33.5 inches, which is 193 percent of average for this location on February 1.

The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR's water supply forecast.

 Statewide, the snowpack is 205 percent of average for this date.

"California has always experienced some degree of swings between wet and dry, but the past few months have demonstrated how much more extreme those swings are becoming," said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. "California is preparing for more intense and dangerous climate swings by bolstering both drought and flood preparation."

 De Guzman also warned that the water supply will remain a concern for months to come.

"Our snowpack is off to an incredible start, and it's exactly what California needs to really help break from our ongoing drought," he said. "However, for every day that it doesn't rain or snow, we gradually return to drier conditions."

 While they will no measure up to the intensity of atmospheric rivers, a pair of cold fronts were forecast to roll through the Bay Area on Friday and Saturday.

Rain totals will vary from 0.25 inches to 0.50 inches. Snow flurries were predicted for the Sierra.

"Upwards of a foot of snowfall will be possible along Sierra passes from late Saturday night into late Sunday night with around a 15% chance of up to 18 inches. 4 to 8 inches will be possible for communities around the Tahoe Basin," the forecasters at the National Weather Service predicted.

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