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Storm brings heavy snow and rain to California

A winter storm blanketed the Sierra Nevada in heavy snow and flooded much of California with rain, bringing a wet start to winter after three years of record drought.

The storm has gone down 3 to 4 feet of fresh snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada over the weekend.

From the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California, between 1 inch and 4 inches of rain fell in many areas. Parts of the hills and mountains received up to 7 inches of rain over two days, sending water rush in streams.

The amount of precipitation varied widely across southern California. Less than an inch of rain fell in downtown Los Angeles, while Pasadena recorded about 3.5 inches and Burbank saw 1.2 inches, according to the National Weather Service. More than 5 inches of rain fell in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The storm brought a welcome boost to the state’s severely depleted water supplies. The past three years have been the driest on record for California, and state reservoirs remain well below average levels.

Meteorologists and climatologists said that while the storm has brought some much-needed relief, it is far too early to tell if this winter will begin to alleviate the drought.

“It’s a good start to winter, but it’s unlikely to have an impact on drought,” said Andrew Schwartz, senior scientist and director of UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory. “If we get to March or April and we’re above average, then we can start talking about the impacts of the drought.”

Last December, a record 17 feet 10 inches of snow fell at the Snow Lab, but then the snow stopped and the next three months were extremely dry.

The latest storm arrived this weekend with strong, gusty winds and brought the heaviest snowfall so far this winter.

The Snow Lab, in Soda Springs northwest of Lake Tahoe, recorded more than 3 and a half feet of snow over two days. Some other ski resort areas were 4 feet.

The blizzard reached its peak on Saturday, with up to 5 inches of snow fall per hour.

In Truckee, scientist Neil Lareau woke up on Sunday to see about 15 inches of snow had fallen on his patio overnight, bury a measure which he uses as a gauge. The accumulated snow was about 4 feet deep, transforming the landscape.

“It’s really fluffy, really nice snow,” said Lareau. “It’s a real winter wonderland right now.”

Lareau, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at the University of Nevada, Reno, had hoped to visit one of the local ski areas but said many were temporarily closed due to avalanche and snow issues. difficulties in dealing with snow. Instead, Lareau planned to go outside to play in the snow with her children.

California typically receives most of its precipitation between October and April, when storms arrive from the Pacific with rain and snow.

“It’s always remarkable when we have these big storm cycles,” Lareau said. “We have this kind of boom or bust climate in the Sierra, where an enormous amount of our water resources enter, into only a handful of storm systems each year. And this is one of them. »

Last week, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada measured 156% of average for this time of year, and the storm sent snow totals soaring.

“It’s a big boost for our water resources in the short term and, and hopefully, this trend will continue through the winter,” Lareau said. “But the tap can go off like it did last year, and we’ll be back in the same place.”

State water officials said they are taking a cautious approach in case next year ends up being a fourth dry year. The Department of Water Resources announced this month that water agencies should prepare to make do with as little as 5% of their full allocations from the State Water Project, which carries water through aqueducts from the delta. from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River to farmlands and cities for the south.

The Colorado River, another major water source in Southern California, is experiencing a severe shortage after 23 years of extreme drought made worse by the effects of global warming. And water district managers in Southern California have discussed plans for substantial reductions next year, which are expected to result in new drought restrictions in cities as well as water cuts in agricultural areas.

The rain and snow should pass by Monday, giving way to drier weather.

National Weather Service forecasters said with a La Niña pattern in the Pacific expected to persist for a third straight winter, the next few months could bring below-average rainfall to much of California and the Southwest. .

“This is kind of a weak La Niña, so it may not be directly correlated with drier than normal weather,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard at Oxnard.

“The severe drought across California cannot last forever,” Sirard said. “Hopefully it will be the start of a wet pattern this winter. We’ll see.”

After the rains, people shared videos of swollen, muddy rivers in places across the state, from Salinas River near Paso Robles in San Lorenzo River in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Extreme drought over the past three years has had a significant impact on ecosystems, reducing stream flow and leaving warmer waters, threatening salmon and other endangered fish.

Pablo Ortiz Partida said he felt happy to see the rain while driving through the wet streets of the San Joaquin Valley.

“These rains have been welcome and on a personal level it warms my heart,” said Ortiz, senior climate and water scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Basically, these rains put us on track for average precipitation for this time of year. There is, of course, a long way to go to recover from previous drought years,” Ortiz said.

He said it’s important to remember that climate change, in addition to intensifying the current drought for years, has also brought extreme heat over the past year that has parched soils and vegetation. This drying out from the heat, he said, means that when the snow and rain come, more of it is absorbed by the dry earth, and “we often don’t see a lot of that water pouring into our streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. ”

Although the latest rains and snows are helping, the state will need a lot more, Ortiz said.

In addition to low California reservoir levels, the drought has led farmers to rely more on groundwater pumping in the Central Valley, compounding the long-term decline in water levels.

This year, a record number of dried up domestic wells have been reported to the state. Many of the nearly 1,400 wells have dried up in agricultural areas of the Central Valley. Residents must rely on bottled water and truck deliveries to fill household reservoirs while they wait for solutions, such as a new well or a connection to pipes from a nearby community.

“For me, the drought in California will end when we stop seeing community wells and private wells going dry,” Ortiz said.

California Daily Newspapers

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