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NASA Satellite Tracks Dramatic Difference in California’s Snowpack Levels

Images captured a year apart by instrument aboard Terra spacecraft that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1999

Satellite images of snowpack Click to view larger
An instrument aboard the Terra satellite that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1999 shows the dramatic difference in snow levels in the Sierra Nevada from Febuary 2018, at left, and this month. (NASA photos)

An instrument aboard a NASA satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base captured the dramatic difference in snow levels in the Sierra Nevada over the past year.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite acquired the natural-color images of California’s sprawling mountain range on Feb. 11, 2019, and Feb. 15, 2018, according to NASA.

The newer image — captured before last week’s latest storms —shows the more extensive snow cover in 2019 along with the greener landscape on the western slopes of the range.

Data from the California Department of Water Resources revealed the snow water equivalent — the amount of water contained within the snowpack — was 130 percent of normal as of Feb. 11.

Months ago, on Thanksgiving, that number was just 44 percent of normal while snow cover registered 21 percent of normal in February 2018.

Snowpack levels are vital for more than keeping ski enthusiasts and resorts happy. The snow levels are key for utilities generating hydro power, farmers developing ground water pumping needs and irrigation schedules and more, according to the state water resources agency.

In the spring and summer the melting snowpack also replenishes some of California’s reservoirs.

MODIS is one of the five instruments aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, called the flagship of the series of Earth Observation System spacecraft.

The West Coast’s inaugural Atlas IIAS rocket, then built by Lockheed Martin Corp., launched the Terra satellite, about the size of a small school bus, from Vandenberg on Dec. 18, 1999.

In October, NASA representatives noted that Terra had marked the completion of 100,000 orbits around the Earth as the spacecraft continues to far exceed its designed life span of six years.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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