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7:15 AM | *Long-term California drought is over and an incredible snow pack will help for months to come*

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Weather forecasting and analysis, space and historic events, climate information

7:15 AM | *Long-term California drought is over and an incredible snow pack will help for months to come*

Paul Dorian

Phenomenal amounts of snow have piled up this winter season in the Sierra Nevada with more than 51 feet measured at Squaw Valley; courtesy NOAA

Phenomenal amounts of snow have piled up this winter season in the Sierra Nevada with more than 51 feet measured at Squaw Valley; courtesy NOAA

Overview

According to the latest “US Drought Monitor” report, the long-term drought in California is now “officially” over following the very wet winter season of 2018-2019. For the first time since 2011, the state has no region suffering from prolonged drought and the vast majority of the state California is “normal”.  The reservoirs are full, the lakes are full, and there is a ton of snow in the higher elevation locations.  In fact, the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada – a major source of California’s water supply – has reached incredible amounts by doubling in the month of January and then doubling again in February and more snow is coming this week. 

The very latest US Drought Monitor report declares the drought is over for California which began in December of 2011 as the vast majority of the state is now “normal”. Source NOAA, USDA

The very latest US Drought Monitor report declares the drought is over for California which began in December of 2011 as the vast majority of the state is now “normal”. Source NOAA, USDA

Details

In simplest terms, a Mediterranean climate is characterized by long, warm to hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. A unique set of physiographic and maritime influences combine to create a climate in California that is considered more “Mediterranean” than that of the Mediterranean Basin itself.  Eighty-five percent of California's rain falls during the winter months (compared to an average of sixty-five percent in other Mediterranean-climate regions), making the summers longer and drier than most other regions with a similar climate.  The state's great length (covering ten degrees of latitude), its succession of north-south trending mountain ranges, and its relationship to the vast, cold Pacific Ocean are the three major factors that determine California's climate and its many microclimates.

Heavier than normal winter rains have produced super blooms of wildflowers in California. Courtesy Mario Tama / Getty Images

Heavier than normal winter rains have produced super blooms of wildflowers in California. Courtesy Mario Tama / Getty Images

A year ago, only 11% of California was experiencing “normal” conditions and about 89% of the state was “abnormally dry.”  Just three years ago at this same time of year, about 90% of California was suffering through “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions, but all of that has changed in recent years with wetter winters and this latest winter season has resulted in a return to “normal” for much of the state. The wet weather has not just benefited California this past winter season, but the entire western US has fared quite well.  In fact, the nation as a whole has just gone through one of the wettest winter seasons since records started being kept in the late 1800’s with an average of 9.01 inches in the December through February time period – 2.22 inches above the national average.

Just three years ago much of California was experiencing “exceptional” or “extreme” drought; source NOAA, USDA

Just three years ago much of California was experiencing “exceptional” or “extreme” drought; source NOAA, USDA

In terms of snowfall, the amounts have been simply spectacular in the Sierra Nevada with more than 51 feet recorded at Squaw Valley as an example.  As of a few days ago, the average statewide snow-water equivalent was a whopping 3 feet, 6 inches, which is 160 percent of normal for this time of year. How much snow falls every winter season is critical to California’s water supply. The snow, which forms a vast “frozen reservoir” over California’s 400-mile long Sierra mountain range, provides nearly one-third of the state’s water supply for cities and farms as it slowly melts in the spring and summer months, sending billions of gallons of clean, fresh water flowing down dozens of rivers and streams into reservoirs.

What a difference 5 months can make…snow capped mountains and plenty of greenery now in the valley. You can also see water in the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento from recent rains on the right image. Courtesy NOAA/NWS-Sacramento

What a difference 5 months can make…snow capped mountains and plenty of greenery now in the valley. You can also see water in the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento from recent rains on the right image. Courtesy NOAA/NWS-Sacramento

Many sections of California experienced quite cool conditions this winter season in addition to the abnormally high amounts of precipitation.  Los Angeles, for example, experienced the fifth-longest streak of consecutive days with a high temperature below 70 degrees since records began in the late 1800’s and rare snowfall was even reported in the LA metro region during the month of February.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Perspecta, Inc.
perspectaweather.com