California’s snowpack: Now zero percent of normal—a worst case scenario for the state’s water supply.

The Worst Case Scenario Has Come True: California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal

The Worst Case Scenario Has Come True: California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal

The Slatest
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May 29 2015 2:56 PM

California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal

A stump sits at the site of a manual snow survey on April 1, 2015 in Phillips, California. The current recorded level is zero, the lowest in recorded history for California.

Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images

California’s current megadrought hit a shocking new low this week: On Thursday, the state’s snowpack officially ran out.

At least some measurable snowpack in the Sierra mountains usually lasts all summer. But this year, its early demise means that runoff from the mountains—which usually makes up the bulk of surface water for farms and cities during the long summer dry season—will be essentially non-existent. To be clear: there’s still a bit of snow left, and some water will be released from reservoirs (which are themselves dangerously low), but this is essentially a worst-case scenario when it comes to California’s fragile water supply.

This week's automated survey found California's statewide snowpack had officially run out.

California Department of Water Resources


The state knew this was coming and has been working to help soften the blow—but they’re fighting a losing battle. Bottom line: 2014 was the state’s hottest year in history, and 2015 is on pace to break that record. It’s been too warm for snow. Back in April, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions for urban areas based mostly on the abysmal snowpack. In recent days, the state’s conservation efforts have turned to farmers—who use about 80 percent of California’s water.

With a burgeoning El Niño on the way, there’s reason to believe the rains could return soon—but not before October or November. The state’s now mired in such a deep water deficit that even a Texas-sized flood may not totally eliminate the drought.

Welcome to climate change, everyone.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.