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UC Berkeley snow lab conducts research in intense winter storms

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Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, CSSL collects and provides high-quality data to help track, forecast and manage water in the state.


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JANUARY 31, 2023

UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, which conducts research related to California water resources and climate change, saw intense snow storms this month, receiving 54 centimeters of snow in 24 hours, according to a tweet from the CSSL.

Lead scientist and manager at the Central Sierra Snow Lab, or CSSL, Andrew Schwartz said the snowpack reached approximately 11 feet deep across the site, and up to 20 feet next to the lab. He added that the facility was built robustly to withstand even the harshest of winters.

“This winter has been a particularly exciting one, and I’m looking forward to seeing if we continue to sustain our above-average snowpack and experience additional atmospheric rivers,” CSSL station director Neil Tsutsui said in an email.

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, CSSL collects and provides high-quality data to help track, forecast and manage water in the state.

Tsutsui said in an email that “snow science has never been more important” and emphasized the crucial role snow plays in providing water to California.

CSSL has been collecting in-person, manual snow measurements continuously since its construction in 1946, according to Tsutsui.

According to Schwartz, the lab’s research focuses on how climate change affects snow and precipitation, the impacts of wildfire on water and snowpack, rain-on-snow events and the development of new instrumentation.

As part of their research, Schwartz and his team of graduate and undergraduate students and staff collect daily observations of snowfall, snowpack depth and snow water.

“We’re seeing a decrease in the amount of snow that we get every year and we’re getting more rain in the winter, which can cause problems when it melts snow or loads the snow with water that can create avalanches,” Schwartz said in an email.

Schwartz noted increases in snow evaporation and sublimation in recently burned forest was another finding from their research which he found concerning. He added that CSSL maintains and continues some of the longest snow records in the world, with the oldest dating back to 1878.

Former faculty director of CSSL Robert Rhew said the researchers have been able to compare their current findings against CSSL’s decades-old database of snow records.

“Last winter saw a whipsaw type of climate variability, going from one extreme to another,” Rhew said in an email. “We went from the snowiest December on record right into the longest period of no snow on record.”

Moving forward, CSSL will continue to explore research related to climate change, according to Schwartz.

Schwartz noted CSSL will also focus on improving precipitation measurement and prediction methods to help water modelers and managers handle droughts and large storms, such as the one seen this winter.

“The Snow Lab is an important setting for testing new, cutting edge techniques and technologies, and our long history allows us to ground-truth them against traditional approaches,” Tsutsui said in an email.

Contact Olivia Branan at 


JANUARY 31, 2023