This winter looking warmer than average - and that means less snowpack

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Thursday, January 11, 2024
California just saw its warmest December in more than 6 decades
This week might feel cold but this winter has been much warmer than usual - and that's bad news for California's water supply.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- This week may seem unusually cold for Southern California, but climate scientists say December 2023 was the month that truly had extraordinary temperatures - on the warm side.

Data from the Western Regional Climate Center show last month was California's warmest December in more than 60 years.

As chilly as our current weather has been this week, it is not cold enough to make up for December's warm streak.

"We would have to be 10-15% colder and have it last a month or so to truly balance it out," said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who points the finger at global climate change. "If you look at what's happened so far in this cool season from October through the beginning of January, almost all of that time has been well above average temperatures to near record warmth."

But while warm winter months may sound nice, they can actually lead to serious problems. Most of California's drinking water relies on the snowpack in the Sierra, but warm winters can mean less snow.

Last week, the California Department of Water Resources conducted its annual snowpack survey, which showed dramatically lower levels of snow than last year.

"Our statewide snowpack is looking at about 25% of average to date," said Sean De Guzman, the state's snow surveys manager.

But Swain says there's still hope the El Niño phase that we are in will change things before the end of our rainy season.

"There is still a fair amount of winter to go," he said. "We still have the second half of January, February and March - so the core rainy season months - where that might yet happen."