News and Stories

UPDATE: El Nino and the California Drought

January 08, 2016


The much-discussed El Nino weather pattern has begun to materialize on the West Coast. Heavy snowfall and much-needed rain has reached drought-stricken California. Snow and rain received during the remainder of the winter will largely determine whether the state’s drought continues into its fifth year. It is too early to say that the El Nino storms have made a serious dent in the drought. It may be difficult to overcome with just one wet winter, but snow and rain will help to restore depleted reservoirs throughout the state.


Snowpack is critical to California’s water supply because it provides snowmelt that flows into rivers and streams filling the state’s reservoirs. The more snowpack that accumulates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the greater the likelihood that California’s reservoirs will reach normal levels. Below are current snowpack levels statewide as well as in the three main regions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra).

  • Statewide snowpack is currently at 12.4 inches (107% of average)
  • Last year’s reading on the same date was 5.0 inches (41% of average)
  • Northern Sierra snowpack is well-above normal levels at 13.2 inches (108% of average) 
  • Central Sierra is currently reading 14.0 inches (113% of average)
  • Southern Sierra snowpack is reaching normal levels with 9.5 inches (97% of average)

Although snowpack readings are higher than last year, California’s major reservoirs remain low. Despite the fact that the state has received a lot of rain, totals to date are behind historical averages in three of four critical growing regions. The San Luis Reservoir, which provides surface water to both the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, currently holds 24% of its 2 million acre feet capacity (34% of normal) to date. Both snow and rain are needed over several years to help California pull itself out of the drought.


Listed below are precipitation totals for the 2016 water year (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016) in California:

  • Fresno is currently 114% of the historical average to date
  • Oxnard is 40% of the historical average to date
  • Salinas is 76% of the historical average to date
  • Sacramento is 55% of the historical average to date

Markon will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.


Please contact your Markon customer service representative for more information.


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