Two NASA satellite images released late Monday by the National Weather Service office in Sacramento starkly illustrate how much less snow is covering the Sierra Nevada this week compared to the same time a year ago.
The images, taken from roughly 438 miles above Earth, show California's Sierra Nevada range blanketed with snow a year ago, on Feb. 17, 2019. That day, the snowpack, which is the source of about one-third of the state's annual water supply, was at 147% of its historical statewide average for that date.
The second image shows the same view taken this week, on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020 — when the snowpack was just 54% of the historical statewide average.
The Northern Sierra is currently faring slightly better than the Southern Sierra, 58% of average vs. 49%.
There are still six weeks left in California's traditional winter rain and snow season, allowing some time for new storms to boost the totals. But forecasts continue to call for dry weather for the next 10 days.
One bright spot: Reservoirs across the state are at or near historic averages for this time of year, in large part because of the wet winter last year. That provides California water managers with a cushion against water shortages this summer.
But if March remains as dry as January and February, fire danger will come earlier in the year and concerns about a possible new drought will grow.
How much snow and rain California receives next winter will be a critical factor, experts say, in whether the state just had a dry patch this winter, or actually entered another multi-year drought, only a few years after the close of the 2012-2017 historic drought.