Incoming California storms to bring even more drought relief
For the second straight week, the percentage of Californians living under drought conditions declined, and AccuWeather meteorologists say much more improvement is ahead in the coming weeks.
AccuWeather California Expert Ken Clark describes the storm pattern this week into next with tropical moisture and higher temperatures on the way.
The latest numbers published by the United States Drought Monitor on Thursday morning showed a continued improvement in the long-term drought that has plagued California for years. And with another sizable storm bearing down on the state, AccuWeather forecasters expect the state's remarkable drought turnaround to continue into the spring.
California, one of the most drought-stricken states in the country, saw its fortunes start to change around the start of the year when a series of storms socked the state with heavy rain and mountain snow from late December into the middle of January. Then, in late February and early March, another round of potent storms arrived. One such storm brought more than 7 inches of rain in some Southern California locations and dropped unusually heavy snow in the mountains around Los Angeles.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 26% of California is now drought-free, up from a little over 16% at this time last week. Three months ago, the entire state was either in some form of drought or experiencing abnormally dry conditions. As of Thursday, more than 5 million Californians were living in areas dealing with drought. This is down from more than 9 million just one week ago.
After both the February storms and the preceding parade of storms from late December through mid-January, the improvement in California has been staggering. In October 2022, 91.83% of the state’s residents were under at least severe drought conditions, with over 43% under extreme or exceptional drought.
The areas of extreme and exceptional drought, the two most intense forms of drought classification, were both completely wiped away by the middle of January. Just 19% of the state was dealing with severe drought as of March 7.
Rainfall totals have exceeded historical averages in many spots during this wet season. In downtown San Francisco, 23.38 inches of rain have been recorded since Oct. 1, 2022, far above the 16.35 inches the city typically receives in the time period. Downtown Sacramento also took in more than 5 inches of precipitation above its historical average, while Downtown Los Angeles received 13.91 inches since the start of October, more than 3 inches above the historical average of 10.12 inches.
The rain-swollen Los Angeles River flows near downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, as a powerful storm pounded Southern California. (AP Photo/John Antczak)
The positive trend will continue into mid-March, with relief on the way in the form of multiple atmospheric rivers. The storms could combine to send roughly 5 inches of rain into the Bay Area through next week.
“The storm coming the next few days is loaded with moisture and will provide a large amount of rain over a large area,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bob Larson said. “It’s a warm storm, so snow levels will be quite high.”
Snow from the latest storm will be spread over higher elevations, with Larson stating only mountains above 7,000-8,000 feet of elevation will receive new snow accumulation. For lower elevations, heavy rain may wash away snowpack.
A person sits in a snow-covered bus stop Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Olympic Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)
“While this will bring more relief from the long-standing drought, it will cause a lot of problems in the short range, given the rain and melting snow,” Larson said. Larson also pointed to another potential large storm moving into California early next week as “another source of relief” from drought conditions.
Drought relief can also be found in state reservoirs, which have rebounded significantly to above the historical average in several key spots. California’s second-largest reservoir based on total capacity, Lake Oroville, located in the northern part of the state, was 16% above the historical average as of March 8, hitting 75% of its total capacity. Other major reservoirs that have passed historical averages include the Don Pedro Reservoir and the New Bullards Bar Reservoir.
With additional storms forecast to reach the state and the massive snowpack in the mountains still to melt away during the spring and summer, AccuWeather meteorologists believe short-term drought conditions could be eliminated completely by mid-April.
"This is a staggeringly positive development, especially given the severity of the drought across California as recently as a few months ago," AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said. "Some longer-term drought impacts, including the recharging of deep aquifers, can persist despite the major short-term drought turnaround," he added.
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