California opens 2024 with below-normal snowpack after a greatest start in decades.

Los Angeles — California has a below-normal mountain snowpack in 2024, a year after its strongest start in decades. Officials stated Tuesday that weather whiplash has rendered this winter unclear.

Sean de Guzman, a California Department of Water Resources water supply forecaster, stated the statewide snowpack was 25% of average. California uses 30% of its water from the snowpack, which melts and flows off into streams and rivers in spring.

De Guzman began a seasonal series of hand measurements on a Sierra Nevada snow course at Phillips Station south of Lake Tahoe. Over 260 other locations are measured by the department using electronic devices.

De Guzman and his colleagues measured and weighed samples throughout a field with little snow and bare areas. In a webcast, he claimed the site had over 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow a year ago and the statewide snowpack was 177% of average.

At Phillips Station, he measured 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) of snow depth and 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of snow-water content, 30% of the normal thus far and 12% of the average on April 1, when the Sierra snowpack peaks.

Today’s result shows that it’s really still too early to determine what kind of year we’ll have in terms of wet or dry,” de Guzman said, adding that storm systems may change between January and April. He highlighted that last year's rainy winter ended a yearslong drought and left reservoir levels at 116% of normal.

There is also a significant El Nino, a natural and infrequent warming of area of the Pacific Ocean that can cause greater precipitation in California, but not usually.

De Guzman said the Climate Prediction Center's seasonal prediction for January, February, and March still predicts above-average precipitation and snow. In contrast to three years of drought, the early January snowfall was outstanding last year due to a bombardment of atmospheric river storms. Snowpack reached 237% of normal by April 2023.

After the Oct. 1-Sept. 30 “water year” finished, the state's reservoirs were 128% full, despite deadly flooding and towering snow loads that destroyed houses.

Watch this space for further developments.