As late-season wet weather hits Northern California, snowpack and reservoir levels soar

Northern California rain and snow levels have soared with record wet weather in May, leaving the Sierra with higher-than-normal snowpack levels and pushing several reservoirs toward full capacity.

Downtown Sacramento already has broken record rainfall numbers in May, with more than 3.42 inches of rain this month, according to National Weather Service forecaster Karl Swanberg. The previous record of 3.25 inches was set in 1889.

Current statewide snowpack levels are being recorded at 20 inches of “snow water equivalent,” the depth of water that would result if the snowpack melted at once, a figure that is 167 percent above average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Central Sierra snow sensors have recorded snowpack levels at 22.9 inches of snow water equivalent, 175 percent above average for this time of year. Snowpack is more than 10 feet deep in some areas, according to Department of Water Resources snowpack readings.

This year’s snowpack — the fifth largest recorded — peaked on March 31, according to the department.

This year “has been an extremely good year in terms of snowpack,” said Jon Ericson, Department of Water Resources flood management chief, in a news release on May 2. “Based on our surveys, we are seeing a very dense, cold snowpack that will continue to produce run-off into the late summer.”

With higher-than-average rain comes higher-than-average reservoir water levels, and Northern California’s water managers will continue to release water from reservoirs in order to avoid spillover.

On Sunday, Folsom Lake was at 94 percent of capacity, according to Water Resources. Water was being released at the same rate it was flowing in as of 9 a.m. Sunday in order to keep the reservoir from reaching maximum capacity.

Water officials were releasing more than double the amount of water than the amount Lake Oroville reservoir was taking in as of 11:00 a.m. Sunday, and the reservoir was at 96 percent of capacity.

Lake Shasta was at 97 percent of capacity, Lake Berryessa was at 94 percent capacity and Lake Camanche was at 81 percent of capacity on Sunday morning.

Increased water and snowpack levels can be attributed to the year’s wet weather – when an estimated 30 atmospheric river systems swept through the region leaving blankets of snow and high amounts of rain from January through March. Heavy rain and snowstorms continued in the Sierra and the Sacramento Valley through April and May.

Light showers can be expected in Sacramento on Sunday, Swanberg said, but the rest of the week should be clear and dry, with temperatures estimated in the mid 80s through Thursday. The Sierra will see snow through Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

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