California snowpack gets off to a good start amid severe drought

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The snowpack blanketing California’s mountains is off to one of its best starts in 40 years, officials said Tuesday, raising hopes the drought-stricken state could soon see spring relief when the snow melts and begins to fill. dried up reservoirs.

About a third of California’s water comes each year from snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that covers the eastern part of the state. The state has built an intricate system of canals and dams to capture this water and store it in huge reservoirs so it can be used the rest of the year when it doesn’t rain or snow. not.

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That’s why authorities are keeping a close eye on snow depth in the mountains — and Tuesday was the first official snowfall survey of winter, a kind of Groundhog Day event where Californians get their first glimpse. usefulness in winter. Statewide snowfall is at 174 percent of the historic average for this year, the third-best measurement in 40 years. Even more snow is expected later this week and over the weekend, giving officials hope for a desperately needed wet winter.

VIDEO: Lake Tahoe residents brace for another big snowstorm this week

But a good start does not guarantee a good ending. Last year, the statewide snowpack was 160 percent of the average when first surveyed. What followed was the driest three months on record in California. As of April 1 – when the Sierra’s snowpack is believed to be at its peak – snowfall was only 38% of the historical average.

That story prompted moderate optimism from state officials on Tuesday.

“While we see a terrific snowpack – and that in itself may be an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief – we are by no means out of the woods when it comes to the drought,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources said Tuesday after a snow measurement ceremony in the community of Phillips, just west of Lake Tahoe.

The promising start to this winter was helped by a series of severe storms last month, including on New Year’s Eve, when much of the state was inundated with heavy rains causing flooding that killed one person and damaged a levee system in Sacramento County.

MORE: New Year’s Eve storm second wettest day on record in San Francisco

This storm was warmer, so it brought more rain than snow. Two more powerful storms are expected to hit the state this week, and those will be much colder. The National Weather Service says the mountains could receive up to 5 feet of snow between the two storms.

While the rainfall seemed out of place for the parched state, it reflects the type of rainfall the state would expect to see during a normal winter, but has been absent in recent drought years.

In Southern California, meteorologists said “all systems are working” for a major storm to sweep through the region Wednesday and Thursday, with peak intensity occurring from midnight to noon Thursday.

Strong winds will add to impressive storm dynamics “setting the stage for a massive precipitation event” in the south-facing Coast Mountains, particularly the Santa Ynez Range in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, said forecasters.

This could cause hazardous conditions. On January 9, 2018, the community of Montecito in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains was ravaged by a huge debris flow that killed 23 people when a downpour slammed into a new wildfire scar.

As California braced for more wet days, heavy snowfall and freezing rain poured across the upper Midwest on Tuesday, shutting down Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota and shutting down parts of Interstates 90 and 29. Meanwhile, heavy rains and thunderstorms threatened to cause flash flooding in Mississippi.

MORE: Here’s how Bay Area is preparing for a dangerous Level 5 storm targeting the region

The storms in California are still not enough to officially end the drought, which is now entering its fourth year. The US Drought Monitor showed that most of the state is in severe to extreme drought conditions. Most reservoirs in the state are still well below capacity, with Lake Shasta being 34% full and Lake Oroville just 38%. It takes even longer for underground aquifers to refill, with groundwater providing about 38% of the state’s water supply each year.

“We know it will take quite a bit of time and water to recover that amount of storage, so we’re not saying the drought is over once it starts raining,” said Jeanine Jones, responsible for the California drought. Department of Water Resources.

But back-to-back powerful storms have left many Californians bracing for the worst. In San Francisco, crews were rushing to clean up trash, leaves and silt that clogged some of the city’s 25,000 storm drains during Saturday’s downpour before the next storm hits later this week.

The National Weather Service forecast up to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in San Francisco with winds of up to 30 mph (48 km/h) with gusts of 60 mph (96 km/h).

Mayor of London Breed said city workers may not have enough time to clear all storm sewers before Wednesday and asked the public to prepare by getting sandbags to prevent flooding, by avoiding unnecessary travel and by calling 911 only in the event of a life-threatening or life-threatening emergency.

City officials had distributed 8,500 sandbags on Tuesday, asking residents to only get them if they had already experienced flooding. Tink Troy, who lives in south San Francisco, collected sandbags from the city’s public works department on Tuesday.

“They said (Saturday’s storm) was going to be bad, and it was really bad. Now they’re saying this one is going to be worse. So I want to make sure I’m ready and that I don’t have not to do it when it rains. rain tomorrow,” she said.


Associated Press reporter John Antczak contributed from Los Angeles. AP writers Olga Rodriguez and Haven Daley contributed from San Francisco.

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