Intense Rain Puts a Big Dent in California’s Drought

Over the past week, a cavalcade of intense rain and snowstorms battered the west coast of the US and put a major dent in California’s five-year drought.

According to the latest report from the US Drought Monitor, the northern third of the Golden State is now drought free. This is a major change from just three months ago, when the entire state was in some form of drought.

Across the region, copious amounts of precipitation were reported. More than a foot of rain fell in the Sierra Nevada, with 20.7 inches measured locally at Strawberry Valley, CA. Higher elevations saw tremendous snowfall totals. Heavenly Ski resort in South Lake Tahoe, according to the NWS, received an incredible 12 feet of snow in just one week.

These staggering totals came courtesy of a weather phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river”. These are narrow, but intense bands of water vapor sourced from the tropics. Often originating near Hawaii, this fire hose of moisture is sometimes called a “pineapple express.”

While this excessive rainfall did cause flooding events across the region, reservoir levels have benefited. Lake Shasta, the largest largest reservoir in California, is currently at 81% of total capacity and 126% of its historical average for the date.

Southern California also picked up some much-needed rainfall, but still remains in drought. That said, only 2% of the state is currently in exceptional drought, the worst possible category.

Northern California is drought free for the first time in five years. Credit: US Drought Monitor

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.