New storm to mark end of dry spell in California, southwestern US

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
March 20, 2019, 8:17:54 AM EDT

After an extended break from storms, a new storm from the Pacific will eye California and much of the Southwest during the middle to latter part of this week.

While far from some of the blockbuster storms of this past winter, this storm will bring enough rain and snow to slow travel and hinder outdoor activities.

Rain to dampen region, may create minor flood risk

The first showers associated with the storm reached California during late Tuesday night. The bulk of the rain will fall in the Golden State during Wednesday as showers spread into Nevada and parts of Arizona and Utah.

SW regional 3/20

During Wednesday night and Thursday, showers will diminish over California, but rain and mountain snow will ramp up farther to the east over parts of Colorado and New Mexico.

SW Thursday 3 pm

Rainfall will generally range from 0.10 of an inch to 1.50 inches across California and the Southwest. However, some of the intermediate elevations of the mountains may pick up 2-3 inches at a highly localized level.

Recent warmth has begun to melt some of the snow in the mountains at intermediate elevations.

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Enough rain may fall with this storm to cause a brief surge of runoff along some of the rivers that directly flow out of the Sierra Nevada and into San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys during the latter part of this week. However, widespread or major flooding is not anticipated with this event.

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Thunderstorms to develop, may become frisky

The system from the Pacific Ocean may produce thunderstorms. Any thunderstorm that develops has the potential to bring small hail.

AP Image California small hail

Hail stones covered a road in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

This time of the year, it is not difficult for even a moderate thunderstorm to produce hail. This is because the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere remain cold. The hail can form rather easily and small hail can survive the trip to the ground without melting on the way down.

There is a remote chance of a brief tornado or waterspout being produced.

Since some of the rain may come during a couple of bursts, such as from showers and thunderstorms, there is the potential for localized incidents of urban and flash flooding. The flash flooding risk will be greatest where any downpours linger over a recent burn scar area.

california storm 32019 satellite

(Image/NOAA GOES-West Satellite)

Fresh dose of snow for the mountains

Another dose of snow is in store for the high country of the Sierra Nevada.

A few inches to perhaps a foot of snow is expected to fall with this storm.

Freezing levels will dip down to Donner Summit at times and create slippery travel conditions. Not enough snow is likely to fall to close Interstate 80, but chains may be needed for some vehicles.

The amount of snow that falls with this storm will pale in comparison to the yards of snow deposited by storms over the winter.

There remains snow to a depth of a few stories high over the High Country. It is possible that snow may remain on the ground at some of the ski resorts well into the summer.

AP Image Truckee, California Snow Dept Feb 27, 2019

This photo provided by the California Highway Patrol Truckee Division shows a patrol vehicle navigating a stretch of Interstate 80 in the Donner Pass area of the Sierra Nevada, just west of Truckee, Calif., on Wednesday morning, Feb. 27, 2019. (California Highway Patrol via AP)

Drought already over in California

The storms during the middle to latter part of the winter have erased the drought in California and parts of neighboring states. From 1.5 to 4 times the amount of precipitation, including mountain snow, fell during February, following relatively few storms during December and January.

Only part of California near the Mexico border remains abnormally dry, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

The snow over the High Country will gradually melt during the spring and early summer and run off into area streams and reservoirs.

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