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California Snowpack Won't Recover From Drought For Years

Steve Margulis/UCLA

The image on the left shows the 31-year average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada mountains compared with the snow water equivalent in 2015.

Steve Margulis/UCLA

The winter of 2015 capped four years of drought that resulted in an unprecedented water deficit in Sierra Nevada snowpack. Much of California’s water comes from snowmelt.

Researchers at UCLA say in a new study, that this winter’s strong El Niño didn’t make up for that deficit. They found that even if the state gets above-average precipitation, it will take until 2019 to recover.

Scientists used NASA satellite and snow survey data to assess snowpack. This gave them a better and more accurate picture of snow in higher elevations.

Researchers say most drought periods in the last 65 years have ended in one year. But in the future with high temperatures and more frequent drought occurring simultaneously, there’s a higher likelihood that it will take multiple years to recover from drought. 

The study was published in the journal Geophyiscal Research Letters.