Recent storms put California's water supply in good shape for dry season

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
March 27, 2018, 2:40:58 PM EDT

Despite a dismal start to the rainy season, recent storms have helped to ease fears of water shortages across California during the upcoming drier months.

The extended fire season and unusually dry start to the winter may have worried many residents about the state’s water supply for the dry season.

California has a distinct wet and dry season. After the wet season typically peaks between December and March, the state relies on reservoirs and melting snow from the mountains for its water supply in the drier months that span late spring to the fall.

Runoff from the melting snow feeds downstream aquifers, rivers and reservoirs.

California snow/water March 24

Snow covers the mountain tops over looking Lake Tahoe on Monday, March 5, 2018, in South Lake Tahoe, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

"November through most of February was quite dry across California," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jordan Root said. "Not only did the state lack significant rainfall; but more importantly, the snowpack across the Sierra Nevada was in record-low territory."

"However, a pattern change in late February brought the storm track across California, which led to rounds of rain and mountain snow for the state."

After enduring one of its driest December and February months on record, Downtown Los Angeles finally welcomed a month with above-normal rainfall this March. However, the round of rain spanning March 21-22 did trigger flooding and mudslides in part of Southern California.

Los Angeles rain March 24

At the start of February, the average water content of the snow across the Sierra was only 27 percent of normal. That compares to the 174 and 116 percentages from February 1 of 2017 and 2016, respectively, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.

Recent storms have pushed this year's percentage to 58.

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"Even if the snowpack never gets to 'normal,' and it probably will not, things are not in that bad of shape for the coming season," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said.

"We must remember that last year was a boon to the water supply and reservoirs that had not been at those levels in quite some time," Clark said.

The majority of the reservoirs throughout California are at or above historical averages.

CA reservoirs March 25

The levels of the reservoirs across California ending at midnight PDT on March 25, 2018. (Image/California's Department of Water Resources)

"Only the Oroville reservoir is not near or above historical averages, and that may be due to the dam damage last year and/or more releases than is normal," Clark said.

With the start of spring in the rear view mirror, time is running out to further add water to the reservoirs and snow on the mountain peaks.

"The storm track looks to stay well north of California this week, so rain and snow chances do not look promising," Root said.

CA dry March 25

The week will start cool before temperatures rebound later in the week. In most communities, highs in the 50s and 60s will be replaced by highs in the 70s and 80s for the second half of the week.

"After April 1, historical odds of big storms targeting California drop pretty quick," Clark said.

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