Two “Pineapple Express” atmospheric river storms hit California within a week, delivering significant precipitation across the West Coast. New satellite photos show the impact these storms had on California’s flagging snowpack.
In what is expected to be one of the biggest snowmelt events in its history, California could see some 277 billion gallons of water flowing from the Sierra during the month of May alone.
Experts said Tuesday that the state’s biggest snow year since 1950 could result in a dangerous spring, as warming temperatures push high volumes of snowmelt downstream.
As winter approached, few anticipated what was about to hit California.
Mired in a serious drought, the state was suddenly battered by an onslaught of 31 atmospheric river storms in a matter of months. While the number alone isn’t exceptional, the location, intensity and duration of these storms had a transforming effect on California’s climate. Record snowfall. Deadly flooding. The end of many drought restrictions.
First came a dozen soaking atmospheric river storms. Then a huge Sierra Nevada snowpack, which on Monday was 248% of normal. Now comes drought relief.
Water agencies across the Bay Area are moving to roll back mandatory drought rules and surcharges as reservoirs have filled this winter and drought conditions have washed away.
At an appearance at a groundwater recharge project in Yolo County, Newsom announced the end of state regulations he put in place last March that required cities and water agencies to impose water restrictions such as limits on the number of days a week residents could water lawns and landscaping. The decision now will be up to each local area in the coming weeks and months about whether to drop those restrictions.
The latest in a series of atmospheric river storms soaked California on Tuesday, bringing another deluge of rain to the already-saturated state, while a Nor’easter swirling over New York and New England prompted emergency orders and closed roads.
Several inches of rain was forecast in some areas of California, while as much as 3 feet (0.9 m) of fresh snow was expected in high-mountain elevations where snowdrifts already reach rooftops, according to the National Weather Service.
With back-to-back storms to hit California in the coming days, state officials are scrambling to make strategic releases from key reservoirs in hopes of preventing a repeat of the flooding that killed nearly two dozen people in January.
At least 10 rivers are forecast to overflow from the incoming “Pineapple Express” storm, which is expected to drop warm, heavy, snow-melting rain as it moves from the Central Coast toward the southern Sierra beginning Thursday night into Saturday.
Call it water whiplash: As California recovers from one of its wettest months in recent history, the Colorado River is still dwindling toward dangerous lows.
As a result, Southern Californians aren’t sure whether to expect shortage or surplus in the year ahead. Though the state is snow-capped and soggy from a series of atmospheric river storms, the region remains under a drought emergency declaration from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
California may celebrate having double the expected snowpack after a string of atmospheric river storms, but state water experts warn that more needs to come to offset years of record-breaking drought.
At the season’s second monthly snowpack survey conducted Wednesday at Phillips Station — at the intersection of Highway 50 and Sierra-at-Tahoe Road — the California Department of Water Resources measured current snow depths and water content.