Image: Snowfall on the San Gabriel Mountains behind the Los Angeles skyline, Feb 26, 2023. Source: Reuters/Mike Blake
Experts predict back-to-back "atmospheric rivers" will bring heavy precipitation to central and northern California while also dropping snow in the state's higher altitudes.
A cold front will follow after a few warm rainstorms that could occur Thursday night or early Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Starting on Thursday and continuing through the weekend, up to 3.5 inches of rain are predicted to fall in the Central Valley and up to 8.5 inches in the foothills and mountains.
After that, a second storm is expected to arrive on Monday. There are indicators that the current weather patterns may persist at least through mid-March, potentially bringing additional warm atmospheric rivers.
These anticipated storms are just the latest in California's extreme weather conditions this year.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 32 trillion gallons of water rained down across the state in a series of ‘atmospheric rivers” from late December through January. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of Californians being left without electricity and more than 40,000 receiving evacuation orders in the regions between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Recent winter storms have continued to add to California's record snowfall. Just last week, 13 counties were declared to be in a state of emergency after winter storms dumped up to 10 feet of snow in some Southern California locations.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range, which provides about one-third of the state's water supply, has had an above-average snowpack as a result of the rainy and snowy winter. As of Saturday, the snowfall in the Central Sierra area is at 196% of the average and the Southern Sierra is at 231% of its average.
The storms brought the healthiest snowpack in years, and reservoirs have been steadily returning to normal seasonal levels throughout the winter.
In November, large areas of Central California were classified as being under "extreme drought," the worst category of the U.S. Drought Monitor. But according to the Drought Monitor, after the winter storms, that label vanished entirely from the map. Now, a large portion of the state’s coastline has either no drought at all or is classified as "abnormally dry."
Despite this, experts warn that it will not be enough to entirely reverse the damage of the past dry winters and broader climate patterns that have drained California's water supply. According to California's Department of Water Resources, the prior three-year period was the driest since records began in 1896.
The inbound storm coming from the subtropics near Hawaii is expected to bring warmer rain, creating the possibility of rapid snowmelt. This has raised concerns about severe flooding in areas that currently have less than two to three feet of snow on the ground, such as Northern California and the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services is urging residents to get ready by stocking up on emergency supplies, charging any electronic gadgets, and packing travel bags in case of possible evacuations. Citizens of areas like Monterey and Marin counties, which are expected to see significant floods, are being instructed to sandbag their homes.
The storms seem to be both a blessing and a curse for Californians. Despite many parts of the state seeing major improvements, the drought that has afflicted California for years still persists. The recent winter storms have brought with them much-needed rain showers, which have benefited the snowpack and reservoirs. However, residents have had to contend with mudslides, snow-covered mountain roads, and trees falling in residential areas as a result.
As California moves toward a hotter, drier future, the severe swings between rainy and dry conditions will continue. Experts predict that as the earth continues to warm due to human activity, California will suffer more extreme rainfall and more extreme drought, creating a deadly riddle in which the apparent answer to one crisis ends in another emergency.
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