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April storms make small dent in California's drought, but it's not enough

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES — The late-season burst of snow and moisture that blanketed Northern California in April helped make a small dent in drought conditions, experts said, but the majority of the state is still far below where it needs to be as it heads toward the hot, dry months of summer.

Several storms arrived weeks after the final snow survey of the season on April 1, in which state officials reported that statewide snowpack had dwindled to just 38% of average for the date after a bone-dry start to the year.

But on Friday, the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab in Donner Pass said it had received 76 inches of powder since the start of the month thanks to April’s storms — nearly doubling the 41 inches it received in the first three months of the year combined.

“It’s not a record-breaking April, but it’s definitely above average,” said station manager Andrew Schwartz. “It’s welcome for sure.”

In fact, April precipitation across much of the Sierra was twice that of January, February and March, according to the National Weather Service. The first three months of the year, typically the heart of the state’s wet season, were the driest ever recorded in California.

But although April’s numbers have so far been impressive, almost all of the state remains under significant drought conditions, officials said.

 

“The problem is at this point, we’re trying to relieve a multiple-year drought,” Schwartz said. “So even though we’re slightly above average this year, that doesn’t resolve and kind of ‘get rid of’ the last two years of below-average water. ... The fact that we’ve been in drought already means that, at least at this point in time, this won’t pull us out of it.”

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor update, released Thursday, showed more than 95% of California classified under severe or extreme drought, up from about 66% three months ago.

And although April storms aren’t all that unusual in Northern California, the dryness that preceded them this year was: The Sacramento area saw a 66-day dry spell that didn’t end until March 15 — the longest ever recorded during winter.

Those deficits mean all the recent rain and snow weren’t enough to bring most areas up to normal. Redding, for example, received 2.65 inches of precipitation between April 1 and 24 — nearly 140% of normal for the dates — but is still at only 60% of where it should be for the water year overall, according to the National Weather Service.

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