2015 Sierra Snow Pack Was Lowest In 500 Years

Sep 16, 2015

A satellite image of the 2015 snow pack in the Sierras.
Credit NOAA/MODIS

We all know snowfall in the Sierras has been light in recent years, but new research reveals that 2015 marked a 500-year-low for snowpack in the region.

When data came out in April indicating that snowpack in the Sierras had hit an 80-year low, people were worried. But University of Arizona researcher Valerie Trouet says her team realized that the reality might be even worse. Trouet and her team had been using tree-ring data to study precipitation in the area, and could place the latest snowpack numbers in the context of several hundred years worth of history.

"We didn't expect that the 2015 snowpack would be a 500-year low," Trouet says. "We recalculated and ran the numbers multiple times but still got the same answer, so ... it really illustrates how extreme and how unprecedented the situation really is."

Next up for Trouet's team? Building their tree-ring data library out to 1,000 years to provide even more historical context to today's measurements. The researchers are using that data  to try to better understand climate dynamics in the Sierras. 

"There's a Godzilla El Nino expected next winter but it's really unclear what the effect of that El Nino is gonna be in Northern California and Central California." 

In the meantime, Reno-Tahoe area residents will keep hoping El Nino throws a little snow our way.