Following its warmest days of the year thus far, California’s unprecedented snowpack has begun to melt, and the towns and valleys below the mountains are preparing for the effects of possible flooding as all that water makes its way downhill.
The extent of any floods will depend on how rapidly the snow melts, but as officials provide the most recent forecast, it is evident that the southern Sierra Nevada’s record snowpack poses the greatest risk.
During the spring and summer, a tremendous amount of water is anticipated to enter rivers and streams. The San Joaquin Valley, the Tulare Basin, and the valleys to the east of the southern Sierra are the areas where flood worries are most prevalent.
It is anticipated that between April and July, the runoff in two rivers in the Tulare Lake area, the Tule and the Kern, would be 400 percent greater than typical. Although they will achieve their highest flows at different dates, the majority of the watersheds are expected to reach their peak water flow in May.
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Due to the protracted snowpack, some rivers, like the San Joaquin River, may have persistent high flows into at least June, which is far later than the average peak-flow schedule of April or May for southern watersheds.
The area’s reservoirs are not very huge, and its flood-control measures are not as effective as those in other sections of the state.
“In the southern Sierra right now, the snowpack upstream of certain reservoirs is enough to fill those reservoirs multiple times over—that’s a big deal,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain in an online update on Tuesday.
Large portions of the Tulare Lake basin have been submerged by floodwaters during the past few weeks. Before it was drained for agriculture in the middle of the 20th century, Tulare Lake was the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
According to Swain, “all the flooding we’re seeing now is just a taste of what is likely to come.” The majority of the snow there has not yet started to melt; in fact, 98 percent of the snow that was present at the top is still present and will continue to melt. & will continue to rain, filling rivers, reservoirs, and probably floodplains.
The National Integrated Drought Information System’s most recent snow report was a sobering reminder of just how much water is now being stored in the mountains.
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