How California went from drought to dangerous rain and snow

Northern California’s improving fortunes help Southern California’s drought picture to a point.


After years of dry conditions, California is getting its winter back.

A series of storms over the last month have dumped feet of snow and rain in some parts of Northern California. And Southern California had its wettest December in several years.

Heavier precipitation in the north of the state has slowly been easing the drought, though it is not over.

Storms over the next few days are expected to continue this trend but also bring dangers.

Northern California is expected to be hit Saturday and Sunday, then again Tuesday and Wednesday.

Up to 12 inches of rain is expected below 8,500 feet, and massive amounts of snow — up to 6 feet — above that elevation in the first wave. A colder storm two days behind will drop yet more heavy snow.

Melted snow provides 30% of the state’s water as it flows into streams, rivers and reservoirs over the spring and summer.

The conditions haven’t added up to a drought-buster quite yet. But officials said that if the wet conditions extend into the spring, 2017 could prove a turning point for the epic dry spell.

“Generally speaking, to get out of the drought California would need to establish a trend of above-average snow-water content, above-average storage in reservoirs and above-average precipitation,” Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, said earlier this week. “We’re on a great trend. We’d like to see it all year.”

The Sierra Nevada

Several days of solid snowfall have left feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada and created a winter wonderland from the Sacramento foothills to Reno. There have been some road closures and at least one avalanche that trapped two skiers (neither were hurt). But the weekend storms are expected to cause more problems.

Mammoth Lakes

The eastern Sierra Nevada has been hard hit this week by snow, luring skiers. So far this season, some parts of the region have gotten 145 inches of snow.

Yosemite National Park

Officials have said they might close the park this weekend depending on snow conditions created by the arriving storms.


Officials have warned of potential flooding from the weekend storms. Two places of concern: the Truckee River and American River.

Southern California

The region had less rain than the north, but there were steady shows Thursday. 

Southern California will see partly cloudy skies for most of the weekend, with rain likely Sunday night and into Monday. Heavy rain could occur along the Central Coast.


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10:37 a.m.: Updated with Southern California forecast.