Needed Rain on the Way to California

February 6, 2012; 2:07 PM ET
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Umbrellas that have spent much of this winter stored away in closets across California will finally get used on Tuesday. ( Klementiev)

Drought conditions are worsening across California, but the good news is that a quick shot of rain is on the horizon.

The return of rain and mountain snow, which has been absent from California too often this winter, will finally come on Tuesday.

The heaviest rain, totaling between 0.75 to 1.25 inches, will wet the coastline from Fort Bragg to San Francisco to north of Los Angeles.

Amounts will dwindle as the rain pushes inland Tuesday afternoon and night with just a couple of showers possible in the deserts of Arizona on Wednesday.

While flash flooding is not expected, residents and visitors should be prepared for travel disruptions.

Flight delays are possible, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Slick roads may threaten motorists as the rain mixes with the oil residue that has been building since substantial rain last soaked California two weeks ago.

Enough cold air will be in place for the Sierra, above 6,000 feet, to pick up a few inches of snow. Interstate 80 over Donner Summit will be slow for a time.

Despite the problems travelers could face, many residents will likely welcome the rain after a report from the United States Drought Monitor indicated that drought conditions are worsening across California.

The report issued last Thursday stated that nearly 91 percent of California is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. That is an 8-percent increase from the week before.

A moderate drought is under way across 57 percent of the state, up from 41 percent from the previous week. Among the California cities enduring this type of a drought are San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno.

"We've had a blocking ridge of high pressure that has caused these dry conditions," stated Western Expert Meteorologist Ken Clark to Staff Writer John Marsh.

"[That high] has caused a banner year for snow in places like Alaska because storms have been flung northward, rather than being allowed to flow freely into California," added Clark.

Receiving rain and mountain snow in the winter is crucial for building up California's water supply.

The state has a distinct rainy season in the winter followed by dry months spanning from late spring through early autumn. Downtown Los Angeles averages 3.12 inches of rain in January, but only 0.01 of an inch in July.

The snow stored up in the mountains through the winter will slowly melt during the warmer months, feeding rivers and water reservoirs.

The graphic below shows how little water is stored in the snow across the Sierra today, according to NOAA, compared to one year ago.

Unfortunately for drought relief, the rain on Tuesday will not commence a rainy period for California. The week should instead come to a close with more dry weather.


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