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Storms bring California’s Sierra snowpack to normal

February 1, 2019
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CORRECTS TO 100 PERCENT, NOT 98 - John King, of the Department of Water Resources, right, checks the snowpack depth during the second manual snow survey of the season at the Phillips station Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, near Echo Summit, Calif. The survey shows the snow pack at 50 inches deep, with a water content of 18 inches which is 71 percent of average for this location at this time of the year. Statewide the Sierra snowpack is 100 percent of average. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

PHILLIPS STATION, Calif. (AP) — January storms raised the vital Sierra Nevada snowpack to normal for this time of year, an important development for California’s water supply, state officials said Thursday after the second survey of the winter.

The snowpack was 100 percent of average to date, the California Department of Water Resources said.

“This is a significant increase since the last survey,” said John King, a water resources engineer who conducted a manual survey of a snow course at Phillips Station, one of hundreds of locations measured.

At the site, the snow depth measured 50 inches (127 centimeters) with a snow-water equivalent of 18 inches (46 centimeters). That’s 98 percent of average to date at the location, the agency said.

On Feb. 1, 2018, Phillips Station had a snow-water equivalent only 14 percent of average.

When the Sierra Nevada snowpack melts in spring and summer it provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs. Persistent drought has also dried out trees and brush, contributing to severe wildfires.

“It’s a start, but the next two or three months will determine what it means for our reservoirs and overall water supply,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement.

The measurement came as wet and snowy January ended with yet another storm impacting the state and another, potentially more potent, tempest following about a day behind.

Downtown San Francisco received more than a half-inch (1.25 centimeters) of rain by early morning before the storm spread southeastward, causing roadway flooding and small debris flows.

Southeast of Los Angeles residents were ordered to evacuate areas of Riverside County near mountain slopes burned bare by a wildfire last summer.

The order was cancelled Thursday evening as the storm passed.

Authorities ordered long stretches of beaches and piers closed along the Southern California coast because of lightning, and a JetBlue flight headed to New York returned safely to Los Angeles International Airport after the crew reported the aircraft was struck by lightning.

Thursday’s storm is expected to be followed by a brief break before an even stronger storm arrives on Friday, bringing another heavy pounding of snow and rain to the Sierra Nevada. Forecasters discouraged travel.

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AP reporters Christopher Weber and John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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