In case you needed more proof that California is in the midst of a serious drought, a new study published September 14 in the journal Nature Climate Change confirms it: the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is lower than it has ever been in the past 500 years.
And this image, which was taken by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer satellite in March of 2010 and 2015 — when the snowpack is usually at its peak — confirms this.
The mountain range’s reserve of water in the form of snow has diminished dramatically in the past five years alone:
Deeper analysis revealed that in 2015, the Tuolumne River Basin in the Sierras contained just 40% as much water in the form of ice and snow as it did when the region’s snowpack levels were highest in 2014.
In fact, on March 25, 2015, the volume of water in the basin was 74,000 acre-feet, or 24 billion gallons. In the same week of 2014, the snow total was more than twice that — 179,000 acre-feet — or just about 60 billion gallons.
This is shocking, considering 2014 was already one of the two driest years in the recorded history of California.
You can also see the dramatic change of colour in the Central Valley of California and the absence snow in the interior of Nevada.
This is very bad news for water-parched California. Snowfall in the 400-mile long mountain range, which sprawls through central and eastern California and partially extends into Nevada, is critical to California’s fresh water supply.
Because the climate west of the Rockies is normally dry, snowfall in the winter supplies those dry regions with water reserves to pull from as the snow melts into basins during the typically dry summer and fall seasons.
During normal years, snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains make up 70% of California’s yearly precipitation. The greater this reserve, the more likely California’s reservoirs will be filled enough with runoff to meet its water needs in the dry months.
These images and findings highlight how severely depleted California’s natural water supply is. And with reports that our “climate change hiatus” is officially coming to an end, California will likely be faced with a parched water supply for years to come.
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