Could California's powerful storm end the drought? Not likely

Dec 3, 2014 2:04 PM by NBC News

Drought-plagued California is experiencing a welcome break thanks to a strong storm that is expected to continue into Wednesday from Southern California all the way up to the Oregon border. This comes after a storm on Sunday that brought 1.4 inches of rain to Los Angeles County.

The precipitation, however, doesn't mean Californians can stop worrying.

"We need a lot more storms like this to even talk about putting a significant dent in this drought," Jeff Lorens, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told NBC News. "It's beneficial, yes, but we need a lot more rain."

California would need 150 percent of the normal seasonal rainfall through spring to make any kind of impact on the drought, according to Lorens.

How much is that? If you live in California, you would have do endure a storm every 3 to 5 days for the next three months, according to Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources.

That is not very likely. California normally gets about 50 percent of its annual rainfall over the winter. The storm hitting the state today is setting rainfall records for Dec. 2 in several Southern California cities.

"We're on the right track and if it keeps up, we have a chance," Anderson told NBC News.

The National Weather Service is forecasting an increased chance for a wet winter, but it would be impossible to predict how much rain California will get over the next few months.

It's also important where that rain falls. California gets much of its water from the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where many of its reservoirs are located. For example, the area between Lake Tahoe and Lake Shasta accounts for two-thirds of the state's water, Anderson said.

The current storm, coming in southwest from the Pacific Ocean, will provide plenty of snow above 8,000 to 9,000 feet, according to Lorens. But not much snow will fall at lower elevations.

"This is a much warmer-than-normal storm than we would typically see during this time of year," Lorens said.

That means less snow building up for spring, when the snow melts and feeds into reservoirs like Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, which began the month at less than 50 percent of their normal water levels.

Still, with up to 8 inches of rain predicted in some areas, the storm is a hopeful sign for California parched landscape. Local agencies are now expected to receive 10 percent of the water they requested for 2015, the Department of Water Resources announced on Monday - which might not seem like a lot, but is up from the 5 percent that they were promised earlier.

"It's a whole lot better than last year when we were setting records for dryness," Anderson said, "but we're going to need to be above average to make some headway."


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