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Western US weather

A look back at the specifics of a wild, wet and snowy winter in California and the Southwest

By Brian Thompson , AccuWeather meteorologist
4/25/2019, 6:00:47 PM

Following a pretty dry 2017-18 season, the storms came back with a frenzy this season across the Southwest, helping to propel many places to above-average precipitation.

It was a fast transition in California in November from the destructive Camp and Woolsey fires in the first half of the month to storms, flooding and mudslides by the end of the month.

December had extended dry periods, and most places ended up with below-average precipitation for the month. As a stormier pattern led to frequent storms and atmospheric river events as 2019 started, the heavy precipitation events caused flooding, mudslides and heavy snow.

Let's take a look at how precipitation shook out across the state of California from the wet season. This chart shows total precipitation versus the average from Oct. 1 through April 25:

  Total Precipitation Average Precipitation % of Average
 Eureka 39.17" 36.29" 108
 Redding 39.21" 30.80" 127
 San Francisco 19.85" 19.72" 101
 Fresno 9.47" 10.54" 90
 Downtown L.A. 18.03" 14.18" 127
 San Diego 11.92" 9.87" 121
 Palm Springs 7.76" 4.69" 165

Notable Tidbits:

--It was a slow start to the wet season across Northern and Central California, with only 30-60 percent of normal rainfall across many areas in December. Even so, many spots still received near- or above-average precipitation thanks to persistent storms and atmospheric river events from January into March.

--48 percent of Palm Spring's rainfall came on a single day, Valentine's Day, when 3.69 inches of rain fell. It was Palm Spring's third-wettest day on record and caused major flash flooding, which closed roads and caused significant damage at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which only re-opened earlier this month.

--Just months after being affected by the Camp Fire, the city of Redding, California, picked up 10-14 inches of snow between Feb. 12 and 13. While measurable snow happens once every few years in Redding, snowfalls of this magnitude are rare. The heavy, wet snow brought down trees and caused power outages.

--Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra has received 681 inches this season at the summit this season, with 460 inches at the main lodge. There are still 100-200 inches of snow still on the slopes, and the ski resort plans to remain open until at least the 4th of July.

--On a temperature note, Los Angeles failed to reach 70 degrees in the month of February, which was the first time that had happened on record.

Desert Southwest

Here is how the precipitation numbers shook out across Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Again, these numbers are from Oct. 1 through April 25:

  Total Precipitation % of Average Precip Total Snowfall % of Avg. Snow (Avg. Snow)
 Las Vegas 4.09" 137 0.8" 267 (0.3")
Flagstaff 17.50" 139 117.3" 117 (100.1")
 Phoenix 8.73" 169 0.0" N/A
 Tucson 8.25" 159 2.3" 383 (0.6")
 Albuquerque 5.24" 130 9.5" 99 (9.6")
 Salt Lake City 14.78" 143 47.3" 85 (55.5")

--Certainly, the overwhelming takeaway from looking across the Southwest is that most places received significantly above-average precipitation this past season. This was a huge reversal from last season, when many places received only 20-50 percent of average precipitation.

--Officially, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas picked up 0.8 of an inch of snow in February, but many surrounding areas received a few inches, which included a rare snow day for Clark County Schools on Feb. 22. Snow also fell in some of the hills in the Los Angeles area, including Pasadena and West Hollywood.

--Flagstaff, a city that is no stranger to snow, received a remarkable 40.3 inches of snow over two days in late February, which was a record for a single storm in the city.

This certainly was a winter to remember, and the implications of it have and will be both good and bad:

--The near- to above-average precipitation amounts will be good news for reservoir levels for the summer and fall and has led to beautiful wildflower blooms in portions of California.

--However, these wildflower blooms and additional other brush caused by the wet winter and snowmelt will be potential fuel for wildfires during the summer and fall. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise noted in their April forecast that the weight of the heavy snowfall that impacted Redding and the northern Sacramento Valley in February helped to bring down a lot of trees and brush. With this brush now dead and on the ground, this could be a potential fuel going forward.

The threat for wildfires is something we'll be watching closely over the next several months, first toward the Pacific Northwest, then into the Southwest heading into the summer and fall.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Western US weather