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El Nino-driven storms to dent California's drought with inches of rain starting this weekend

By By Brett Rathbun, Meteorologist
March 06, 2016, 12:03:12 AM EST

Following a warm, dry February in California, a shift in the weather pattern will open the door for several storms to soak the state during the second week of March.

Enough rain may fall to put a noticeable dent in the drought across the state.

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Starting this weekend, storms will usher in moderate to heavy rain across California and heavy snow to the Sierra Nevada.

"A large area of low pressure will move from the central to the eastern Pacific Ocean by this weekend causing storms to steer into California," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said. Inches of rain will fall from San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento through Monday alone. Up to a foot of rain could fall across portions of the northern California coast, as well as the west-facing slopes of the northern Sierra Nevada.


In the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada, snow will accumulate by the foot.


Following a break in the storms during the middle part of the week, additional storms will roll in late in the week.

“The upcoming rain will be good news, but there is still a lot of ground to make up,” AccuWeather Western U.S. Weather Expert Ken Clark said. “Downtown Los Angeles will need slightly over 8 inches of rain by the end of March just to reach normal rainfall for the water year.”

San Francisco and Los Angeles have not received any measurable rainfall since the middle of February.

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Though the precipitation is desperately needed in much of California, it will come with with some drawbacks.

Rain will be heavy enough to cause flooding and mudslides, especially in areas scarred by recent wildfires.

Motorists will need to be alert for ponding on roadways and to slow down on area highways to reduce the risk of hydroplaning. This rain could also lead to flight delays at local airports.

The weather pattern is forecast to continue into much of next week, with one or two more storms in the offing, according to Samuhel.

Southwest US interactive radar
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Ken Clark's Western Weather Blog

A strong El Niño tends to favor a storm track across California during the winter. This year, however, the state has endured extended breaks in between storms.

"Not every El Niño acts the same, and there have been strong El Niños in the past with below-normal rainfall," Clark said. "It is just not normal."

This month could be the last opportunity for significant rainfall as April typically begins the dry season across California.

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