Storms are Making a Dent in California's Drought; Another 7 Feet of Snow Expected in Some Areas
January 10, 2017
By the end of the week the total snow fall for the year could be up to 20 feet.
A lull in a series of powerful winter storms gave Northern California a chance Monday to clean up from widespread flooding while also assessing how all that moisture is altering the state’s once-grim drought picture.
A few big storms alone won’t end the six-year drought, but there were growing signs that the so-called atmospheric river was making a major dent.
Officials released water from the Folsom Lake reservoir and several others as a flood control measure.
For the first time in 11 years, the floodgates of the Sacramento River were opened Monday morning, releasing a wall of water downstream into the Yolo Bypass, one of several drainage areas designed to catch floodwater. The National Weather Service warned farmers in that region to move farming equipment and livestock out of the way.
The impending storm is expected to usher in 7 feet of snow in higher elevations. By the end of the week the total for the year could already be up to 20 feet. That means a generous addition to the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a precious water supply that California cities and farms rely on when it melts in the spring and summer.
On Monday, it was at 126% of its average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
“We haven’t seen an event of this magnitude in at least a decade,” state climatologist Mike Anderson said.
The storms over the weekend were relatively warm, meaning snow levels stay high. Some of the snow that did fall melted fairly quickly, creating raging rivers — and flooding — across the region.
But the next rounds of storms will be colder, meaning more of the snow will stick. That’s good news for the state’s water collection systems, which rely on snow remaining in the Sierra Nevada into the spring.
The colder storms bring with them the threat of blizzard and whiteout conditions, as well as avalanches. The NWS issued a blizzard warning Tuesday, and heavy snow closed Interstate 80 and U.S. 395.
Forecasters warned of wind guts topping 150 mph, drifting snow, and zero visibility at high elevations.
There were also fears of more flooding, with new warnings issued for the Napa and Russian rivers.
“It’s not over yet,” said Alex Hoon, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Reno station.
The storm is expected to last until Thursday and will bring several feet of snow to lower altitudes, such as Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain in Northern California, as well as cities in western Nevada and southern Oregon.
Many of those communities are still reeling from rainfall that left tens of thousands of households without power, cut off main transportation arteries, stranded motorists and felled trees, including a giant sequoia that served as a tunnel in Calaveras County.
Residents, businesses and government agencies are now forced to prepare for a whole new type of storm while they scramble to address the damage still wreaking havoc on their surroundings.
- Blue Monster Prep