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California is finally getting a wet winter

Javier Panzar and Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

SAN FRANCISCO -- Snow-capped mountains are pretty typical in California -- just not the peaks that got dusted this week.

A series of storms has brought a rare wet winter to the state, sending snow levels plunging and creating some surreal scenes Californians won't soon forget: Blankets of white covering vineyards in Napa Valley. Plows clearing Highway 17 between Santa Cruz and San Jose. Peaks in the San Francisco Bay Area with an alpine feel. Even San Francisco's Twin Peaks got a light dusting.

The conditions highlight a season of storms that have left their mark from the Sierra Nevada range, from which one-third of California's water supply originates, to Los Angeles, which has endured six dry winters out of its last seven. It's a welcome turn of events for a state that is still recovering from severe drought.

By Tuesday, it was almost becoming too much of a good thing.

In the Sierra, as much as 10 feet of snow kept several ski resorts shuttered Tuesday. In Southern California, officials warned of snow levels dropping Wednesday to as low an elevation as 2,000 feet above sea level, which could shut down sections of interstates 5 and 15 as well as other mountain passes.

Big Bear and Wrightwood were poised to see as much as 3 to 4 inches of snowfall through Tuesday night, and up to 8 inches could fall at Mount Laguna in San Diego County.

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This latest series of storms comes around the midpoint of California's wet season.

"This is shaping up to be a wet year," said Chris Orrock, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, citing atmospheric river events that gave the state a good three weeks of rain in January before a round of cold storms arrived at the start of February.

There are no guarantees, of course. But the preliminary outlook is that Tuesday's storm was "just the first of several cold weather storms coming into California down from the Gulf of Alaska," Orrock said. Another could hit the state later this week.

While Northern Californians are seeing a typically wet winter, the rain in Southern California has seemed more like an aberration. Downtown Los Angeles has received 12.91 inches of rain since Oct. 1 -- that's 167 percent above average for this time of year and close to the annual average of 14.93 inches.

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