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California ‘given A Gift’ As Storms Continue To Hammer Away At Long-term Drought

Drought in California has been reduced due to the frequent strong storms that dumped enormous volumes of snow and rain.

There has been a remarkable turnaround. That’s the effect frequent powerful storms with tremendous amounts of snow and heavy rain have had on easing California’s persistent drought conditions this winter.

The status report from the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday, March 2, showed that the recent deluge of precipitation at the end of February and into the start of March lifted large sections of California out of drought entirely. This development followed earlier improvements after a series of atmospheric rivers helped eradicate the state’s “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions back in January. On Nov. 29, 2022, nearly 85% of California was experiencing “severe” drought conditions, but that number had fallen to just under 25% by Feb. 28.

Nearly 17% of California is no longer under any type of drought, and that number could climb higher this week when the next drought monitor report is released on March 9. More than 9.7 million Californians still reside in drought areas.

“We have seen a tremendous improvement … this was not expected for this winter, it was not expected to be this kind of winter, but we’ve been given a gift in California,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said.

Residents shovel snow after heavy snowfall in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California on March 3, 2023 in Crestline, California.  MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Clark stated that the lessening of the drought problem came after a years-long and expansive period of below-normal rain and snowfall, including the 2021-22 winter season, when “hardly any snow or rain fell” from January through March.

“If we had another winter like we had the last three (years), we could be in serious trouble … thankfully, that wasn’t the case,” he said.

A powerful winter storm unleashed heavy rain in the state, including more than 7 inches of rain in Southern California’s Ventura County and 2.29 inches of rain in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, the wettest February day for the hub in 20 years. Prior to the late-February storm, a line of storms in late December and early January unloaded torrential downpours across the state, including in Montecito, where a two-day rainfall total of 8.07 inches in early January more than doubled the typical January precipitation for the area.

Aside from rainfall, a vast improvement to the Sierra Nevada snowpack has also eased the drought conditions, with reports indicating that the southern Sierra snowpack was at 209% of average levels as of March 3. Climate scientist Daniel Swain, who works at the University of California, Los Angeles, said this past week that “it’s very possible we’ll end up vying for one of the top two snow years on record in parts of the state” — a remarkable turnaround, according to Clark.

“Even if it didn’t snow one more flake, we still end off the year far above normal … that is a tremendous amount of water out in the Sierra right now, and that is going to be a tremendous hope as we get into the spring and summer (for) melting, filling up reservoirs even more,” Clark said.

Even as fewer storms impact the region in the spring, the state will continue to reap the benefits of this prolific winter season as the snow melts and feeds into rivers, streams and reservoirs. However, there will be some risks due to the massive snowpack that has accumulated.

According to AccuWeather digital journalist and meteorologist Brian Lada, “melting snowpack across the Sierra Nevada can lead to flooding along streams and rivers flowing out of the mountains. The watersheds linked to the southern Sierra will be particularly vulnerable to flooding as the snowpack across this region of the mountain range is more than 200% of historical averages, and there is the potential for more storms throughout the spring.”

Storm chaser Brandon Clement recently captured drone footage showing drastic improvement in water level and snowpack for places such as Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville and Donner Pass since last summer.

The late-February storm brought over 100 inches of snow to several mountain locations, such as China Peak, Running Springs and Soda Springs. Some residents were completely snowed in, unable to leave their homes, including in San Bernardino County where a state of local emergency was declared. Gov. Gavin Newsom later issued a state of emergency covering 13 counties to help residents trapped in their homes, many without power.

Many street signs are nearly covered as the Big Bear Valley digs out following successive storms which blanketed San Bernardino Mountain communities on Friday, March 3, 2023 in Big Bear Lake, CA. BRIAN VAN DER BRUG/GETTY IMAGES

The snow “just continued, and continued, and continued … it just didn’t stop. It was relentless,” stranded Lake Arrowhead resident Lisa Griggs told AccuWeather.

Clark said that while little to no rain or snow is expected in Southern California over the next several days, more storms are in store for the northern and central portions of the state.

However, the state isn’t out of the woods yet in terms of drought. “Clearly the amount of water that’s fallen this year has greatly alleviated the drought,” Swain told The Associated Press. “It has not ended the drought completely, but we’re in a very different place than we were a year ago.”

Clark added that day-to-day impacts for California residents due to the lessened drought include less rigorous water usage restrictions, including for agriculture, which accounts for the vast majority of water use in the state. The improved water levels will allow for more crop growing, including almonds, one of the state’s key agricultural exports.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

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