Skiers and snowboarders in California woke up Sunday to a beautiful sight: piles upon piles of deep, fluffy powder.
With California resorts like Mammoth Mountain recording more than 50 inches of fresh snow in a 48-hour period over the weekend, West Coast skiers were optimistic about late-season ski conditions, but, more importantly, the heavy precipitation has scientists hopeful for a “Miracle March” to pull the state out of the largest drought in California history.
Prior to February, everyone in California was holding out hope for this season’s “Godzilla El Nino” winter weather pattern to be just what the state needed to put a dent in the massive drought. And in the early months of the ski season, it seemed like El Nino would deliver: California resorts had the best early-season snowfall in more than a decade, and all-important snowpack levels throughout the state were well above 100 percent of their historic averages.
Then February came along, and suddenly all of that precipitation that had been blanketing the state seemingly dried up overnight. February was 8 degrees warmer than its historical average within the state. California was dry for nearly the entire month, and the snowpack levels dropped to 82 percent of their historic averages.
Across the state, people were ready to call El Nino a bust, and scientists said the only thing that could possibly help would be a spectacular March.
“The current pattern is like the drought pattern from these last four years,” David Sweet of the National Weather Service told the Los Angeles Times at the beginning of the month. “If March doesn’t come through, and April and May are typically drier months, we might be out of time by then.”
So far, March has more than delivered. The storms over the weekend dumped more than 4 feet of snow in some areas, while others saw well over 6 inches of rain. According to the National Weather Service, that wasn’t a fluke: Some parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range could continue seeing snowfall measured in feet throughout the week as storms continue to roll through the Golden State.
While that might just seem like fodder to get skiers salivating, all that snow has a very real impact on the state’s water resources.
Sierra snowfall is every bit as important in combatting drought conditions as the rain that runs off into reservoirs. The snowpack serves assort of a secondary reservoir for California, holding water until the spring and summer months when it can replenish lakes when it melts.
The water from the melting snowpack also contributes to the production of hydroelectric power.
With the heavy start to the month, meteorologists across the state are crossing their fingers that the weather patterns will continue.
“What we need looking into March is we need that stormy pattern to return, and it just not to be a one-event month,” Jeff Anderson, a hydrologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, told KOLO. “We need a storm every week, or we need a bunch of storms to pack together during a 10- or 12-day period.”
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