Following a year that was marked by drastic, historic drought conditions, California was hit with winter storms and widespread snow that dramatically shifted its ongoing battle against water scarcity.
“In the mountains, the atmospheric rivers have been more akin to atmospheric avalanches over the Sierra Nevada, with yards of snow piling up higher than they have in years,” AccuWeather reported. “An even more staggering amount of snow has fallen at the summit of [Mammoth Mountain], which reaches an elevation of 11,053 feet. If the Statue of Liberty was removed from its pedestal and placed at the top of Mammoth Mountain, the total snow amount would be approaching its waist.”
Annual snowfall is critical to California’s supply of available drinking water, as summer melts feed its source water bodies and reservoirs. Its early 2023 snowpack in the Sierra region reached more than 250% higher than average levels, and the storms have had a material impact on the state’s pervasive dryness.
“The latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor … showed that the extreme drought conditions, which covered 41% of the state at the beginning of their water year, Oct. 1, 2022, had been all but eliminated in California,” according to AccuWeather. “Additionally, the extent of the severe drought conditions was reduced by 25%.”
However, while California is in desperate need of more water, such severe storms also bring water management challenges and danger.
“It’s been three-plus weeks of nearly nonstop rain in California as a stubborn weather pattern sent wave after wave of tropically infused atmospheric rivers, triggering widespread flooding, landslides and power outages across the state,” per Fox Weather. “That translated to roughly 32 trillion gallons of water in the state between the heavy lowland rains and feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Siskiyou Mountains.”
While water managers in California would doubtlessly prefer consistent, healthy levels of rain throughout the year, the weather there has different ideas. If there is a silver lining to such dramatic storms to kick off the New Year, it could be that they shore up the state’s supplies for some time to come.