Can El Niño save drought-battered California? Here’s why it’s not that simple

After a string of dry winters, Northern California is experiencing a very wet one, and that might help ease the drought.

As of Wednesday, the northern Sierra Nevada had received 114% of the average rainfall typical during strong El Niño years, while the central Sierra Nevada in the San Joaquin Basin was doing even better, having received 122% of average rainfall typical during big El Niño years.

Many of the state’s major reservoirs are below historical averages -- Lake Shasta is at 40% when the average is 60%, while Lake Oroville is at 34% when the average is 54%.

But don’t start replanting your front lawn just yet. “We have such a huge deficit, it’s a very large number we have to recoup,” said Craig Shoemaker, a meteorologist in Sacramento. Here are some maps, charts and images that help show where California is headed with the rains and where it still needs to go.


FULL COVERAGE: El Niño in California

More rain and snow coming

Expected rain and snow totals for late tonight through Saturday afternoon. Gusty winds at times too! #cawx— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) January 21, 2016

A winter of storms brings significant rain totals

El Niño & southern jet stream bring rain and snow to NorCal. SoCal? Not so much. #ElNiño— Ed Joyce (@EdJoyce) January 20, 2016

Season to date rainfall. #bayareawx— NWSBayArea (@NWSBayArea) January 21, 2016


Helping California’s snow pack

Statewide, snowpack is 111% of normal for this date! 1/19/2015 it was at 32%! #WeStillNeedMoreSnow #cadrought— CA - DWR (@CA_DWR) January 19, 2016

Filling reservoirs hit hard by drought

Pretty amazing: Lake Shasta rising fast due to rain storms— Shelby Grad (@shelbygrad) January 20, 2016

But they still have a long way to go

Until recently Lake Shasta levels at historic lows. Big water increase but still way below normal— Shelby Grad (@shelbygrad) January 21, 2016

Godzilla El Niño continues to eat away at the California drought. nom nom nom precip & snowpack now 110% of normal.— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) January 18, 2016

And the drought persists

#CAdrought More snowpack needed to “chip away” at long-term drought in #California #cawater— Ed Joyce (@EdJoyce) January 21, 2016


California has ‘a shot out of the drought’ if El Niño rain persists

What happened to El Niño? Be patient, L.A., it’ll come, expert says


Wildflowers already popping at Death Valley in what may be epic El Niño season

Get our Essential California newsletter