Snowpack Melts Early in West, Raising Drought Worries

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/ Source: NBC News

The lack of snow was bad enough. Now what little snow they had in the West this winter is melting earlier than usual, increasing worries about California’s four-year drought.

The United States Department of Agriculture said Friday that while April 1 is normally when snowpack in the West is greatest, that peak came earlier this year and much of the scarce snow that did accumulate in March has already melted.

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"Almost all of the West Coast continues to have record low snowpack," Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist David Garen said in a release. "March was warm and dry in most of the West; as a result, snow is melting earlier than usual."

The melting snow accounts for much of the seasonal water supply, the USDA said. Lower snowmelt means there will be lower streamflow later in the spring and in the summer.

Earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced for the first time mandatory 25 percent cuts in urban water usage across the state. Farms are exempt from the cuts, but they rely on snowmelt to help plan water usage in the dry months ahead.


-- Patrick J. Rizzo