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Climate and Environment

What The Massive Snowfall This December Means For California's Drought

An outdoor area packed with snow. There is a building near tall trees covered in snow.
The Central Sierra Snow Lab's heavy snowfall in December.
(Courtesy UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab)
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December’s stormy weather is positive news for the state’s dwindling water supply. The drought is seeing improvement from the rain and snow. In the Sierra Nevada, more than 16 feet of snow has fallen.

Andrew Schwartz is lead scientist at the Central Sierra Snow Lab run by UC Berkeley. He says the Sierras hadn’t seen that much snowfall since the 1970s, and that will help with the drought.

“We are actually starting to look quite good," Schwartz said. "However, we need the upcoming month to be at least [an] average precipitation month— if not above average — for us to continue to pull out of the drought and actually relieve things completely.”

And, Schwartz says, based on recent weather patterns, there’s a real chance we won’t get the rest of the rain and snow we need to get out of the drought.

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But the late December weather, which has already set a number of new records, could still make a difference. The rain in downtown Los Angeles Thursday broke a daily rainfall record set in 1936. The area has seen more than 2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

A robust snowpack is critical for supplying California's water. In the spring and summer, the snow will melt and eventually end up in state reservoirs. When the snowpack is deep, that melt provides about 30% of the state’s fresh water supply.

Fingers crossed for a wet 2022.

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