Drought-ravaged California sees one of the largest snowpacks on record | California

California’s winter of extreme storms has brought the drought-ravaged state one of the largest snowpacks on record, with officials saying on Monday that they expect it could be the greatest documented in 70 years.

As of Monday the state’s snowpack stands at 237% of the annual average, the department of water resources (DWR) announced at a press conference.

“It’s looking like this year’s statewide snowpack will probably most likely be either the first or second biggest snowpack on record dating back to 1950,” said Sean de Guzman with DWR, who described it as the deepest snowpack he had ever measured.

While the dozen or so atmospheric river storms and several “bomb cyclones” that hit California in recent months brought deadly flooding and snowstorms, they also had a positive effect by allowing reservoirs to refill and alleviating drought in much of the state. But California is still grappling with the aftermath of the storms, which broke levees, tore down trees and knocked out power lines, and officials are preparing for more problems in the months ahead.

People shovel snow off of a rooftop in Mammoth Lakes, California, on 1 April.Pin
People shovel snow off of a rooftop in Mammoth Lakes, California, on 1 April. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/EPA

As the snowpack melts in the spring and summer, even more significant flooding is expected, said Karla Nemeth, the DWR director. Flooding will pose a particular challenge in the Tulare Lake Basin, where the formerly dried out body of water, once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, has returned amid the record rain.

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Officials are focused on public safety and flood protection and are keeping a close eye on the central valley and the Tulare Basin, she said.

The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, recently signed an executive order to help the flood response in the basin.

“With historic rain and snowpack creating immense challenges for this region, our first priority is protecting lives and livelihoods impacted by this devastating flooding,” Newsom said. “State officials are on the ground to assist communities, support the local emergency response under way and prepare for the surge of snowmelt runoff in the months ahead.”

A car is stranded in floodwaters near Corcoran, California, on 23 March.Pin
A car is stranded in floodwaters near Corcoran, California, on 23 March. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

Even after this year’s deluge, the drought is not entirely over for the state, officials have warned. Newsom described California as being “mostly but not completely” out of drought at a recent news conference. While he rolled back some of the most severe drought restrictions last week, he has not yet lifted the drought emergency.

The state is in a unique moment, Nemeth said, and still must manage its water efficiently.

“Even though we have this extraordinary snowpack, we know that the droughts are getting deeper and more frequent and that means we have to use water efficiently no matter what our hydrologic conditions,” she said. “When we have these very significant water years, we need to do more to make sure we can capture that supply put it into reservoirs and move it underground.”

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