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California's snow drought ends thanks to two weeks of bad weather

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 12/20/2021 Ariel Zilber For Dailymail.com and Agencies

California got some good news this past week as massive snow storms which dumped several feet of the white stuff on the Sierra Nevada Mountains boosted the drought-stricken state’s average snowpack - with more stormy weather in the forecast for the coming days.

In a seven-day span, California saw its average snowpack surged from just 18 percent to 98 percent. That means that the total snow accumulation for this time of year is around normal.

Snowpack is snow that lies on the ground in mountainous areas. When the weather gets warmer, the snowpack melts and flows into lakes and reservoirs where it becomes an important source of freshwater.

The snowpack atop the Sierra Nevada is critical for California because it supplies around 30 percent of the state’s water.

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Meteorologists in the Golden State said that it is critical that the Sierra Nevada snowpack be higher than usual this winter in order to offset severe drought conditions which forced Governor Gavin Newsom to ask residents to voluntarily reduce water usage.

Southern California, whose water shortage is more severe than that of its neighbors up north, also saw some relief thanks to the storms.

'The Tuesday storm that brought 1 to 2 inches of rain to the coastal and valley areas put a dent in our rainfall deficit,' the National Weather Service office in San Diego tweeted. 

While snowpack increased in California, other drought-stricken states in the West continue to experience severe water shortages, including New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada. 

The storm system brought a welcome dump in the Sierra Nevada, where ski areas that struggled in November reported upwards of 4 feet of fresh snow in advance of the busy Christmas and New Year’s weekends.

The Palisades Tahoe ski resort - the newly renamed combination of Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 winter Olympics, and neighboring Alpine Meadows - reported more than 5 feet of snow over three days.

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Another round of widespread rain and heavy snow in the mountains is shaping up for recently drenched California and much of Nevada in the coming week and could create hazards for holiday travelers, forecasters said Saturday.

Several waves of precipitation are forecast to move inland as a cold low pressure system from the Gulf of Alaska deepens off the West Coast, the National Weather Service said.

The timing of the precipitation was not certain but was likely to begin in the far north on Monday, become more widespread on Tuesday and extend through Southern California by midweek.

Coastal peaks north of San Francisco Bay could receive up to 8 inches of rain by Christmas morning.


Video: Where's the snow? Rockies winter starts with a whimper (Associated Press)

The Sacramento weather office said mountain snow levels could initially start below 3,000 feet and then trend above 4,500 feet.

‘Holiday travel could be significantly disrupted by these storms, with little break in the snow during this extended event,’ the Sacramento office said.

‘There will be few, if any, meaningful breaks in the weather for the Sierra once the storms begin on Tuesday, so plan ahead,’ the Reno, Nevada, weather office added.

While the storms brought much-needed precipitation, they also prompted authorities to issue evacuation orders for areas hit by mudslides and flash flooding.

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The powerful system was a so-called atmospheric river that sucks up moisture from Pacific Ocean and dumps it at lower elevations as rain and in the mountains as snow.

The storm began last weekend in Northern California and brought heavy precipitation as far inland as Nevada, where more than 6 feet of snow fell since Sunday night at the Mt. Rose ski resort just southwest of Reno and more than 4 feet fell at Heavenly on Lake Tahoe's south shore.

Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierra also got about 4 feet.

Residents near the Alisal Fire burn scar in California's Santa Barbara County were ordered Monday to evacuate over concerns that heavy rains might cause flooding and debris flows.

The order was lifted Tuesday afternoon.

Similar orders were issued for people living near burn scars in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, where rockslides were reported.

A mountain route into the resort town of Big Bear was expected to be closed until Wednesday while crews cleared several feet of mud and debris.

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Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California's Water Policy Center, said the storm won't be a drought-buster, but water watchers are excited about all of the snow it's dumping in the Sierra Nevada.

Melted snow that runs into California's watershed when the weather warms makes up about a third of the state's water supply.

It's important for a strong base of snow to develop in December so that storms later in the winter have something to build on, he said.

Most western U.S. reservoirs that deliver water to states, cities, tribes, farmers and utilities rely on melted snow in the springtime.

'You're literally putting water in the bank up there,' he said.

Any moisture is much-needed in the broader region that's been gripped by drought that scientists have said is caused by climate change.

The latest U.S. drought monitor shows parts of Montana, Oregon, California, Nevada and Utah are classified as being in exceptional drought, which is the worst category. 

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