California’s drought outlook is increasingly dire as the driest-ever start to the calendar year and a late-March heatwave have reduced Sierra Nevada snowpack levels to a fraction of their average. Following an unusually wet December, less rain fell in the first three months of 2022 than in any year since records began during the Gold Rush in 1849. With statewide snowpack at just 38% of average April 1 levels, the deficits are particularly alarming in Northern California. “We are supposed to be the water tower for the state,” UC-Davis hydrology professor Helen Dahlke told the Washington Post.

The early snowmelt is causing concern over water availability for agricultural irrigation and aquatic wildlife downstream, the potential shutdown of the state’s largest hydroelectric power station, and an early start to a big wildfire season. Climate change is reducing snowpack levels, making droughts worse and more likely to occur, and has been linked to increasingly earlier and faster snowpack melt – all of which contribute to more extreme wildfire seasons.

Research published Friday in Science Advances also shows the American West is increasingly vulnerable to flooding and mudslides triggered by extreme precipitation in areas recently incinerated by wildfires. (California: Washington Post $, San Francisco Chronicle, CAL Matters, AP, CNN, LA Times $, Fresno Bee, LA Times $; Gold Rush records: Mercury News; Post fire landslides AP, New York Times $, USA Today, Gizmodo, Scientific American; Climate Signals background: Drought, Snowpack decline, Early/faster snowpack melt, Wildfires)