Sustainability Environment

California’s next ordeal after wildfires: massive rains and snow

A San Diego Lifeguard River Team unit patrols along a flooded water way as it leads toward the San Diego River, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in San Diego.  Gregory Bull/ AP

Story at a glance

  • Despite 100 percent of California being considered under drought conditions, the state has received record rainfall and snow in December.
  • Some areas of the state had to issue evacuation orders as the rainfall caused mudslides and debris flow.
  • All the rain and snow may help the state come out of drought conditions.

Just as California experienced devastating wildfires, the state is now dealing with powerful rain storms and snow up and down the state.

The National Weather Service announced over the weekend that southwestern California was on track for powerful storms, with rainfall forecasts of 1-3 inches along the coast and in valleys along with more rain in the mountains up to snow up to 3 feet in high mountain areas. That was followed by additional alerts that more than 5 feet of snow was forecasted for parts of the Sierra Nevada through Wednesday, affecting large portions of Northern California. 

As heavy rainfall hits the state, the National Weather Service said in a separate report that it’s expected to continue and move into Southern California by Thursday. 

Valleys and coastal areas are expected to get 1-3 inches of rain while the foothills and mountains were expected to get 3-5 inches. Even the desert areas of the state are expected to get up to an inch of rain, according to local media.

All that rainfall is unusual in California. One local meteorologist pointed out on Twitter that in the last 73 days, San Francisco Airport, Oakland Airport and Santa Rosa “have now seen more rain than we saw during last year’s entire water year (October 2020-September 2021).”


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Snow has had an equally significant effect, with avalanche warnings issued in Northern California. One of Lake Tahoe’s mountain ski resorts closed on Monday due to heavy snowfall, with the Kirkwood Mountain Resort saying in a Facebook post that after getting 17 inches of snow overnight and high winds, they couldn’t safely operate.

The severe weather has wrought chaos around much of California, with an evacuation order issued for parts of Santa Barbara County’s Las Flores Canyon, Mariposa Reina and West Camino Cielo. Heavy rainfall increased the potential for flooding, mud and debris, with the county requesting people to prepare to leave. 

California has been at odds with extreme weather, with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) considering 100 percent of the state to be in a state of moderate drought. That’s while 47 percent of California is in exceptional drought conditions.

Experts say that it usually takes five to seven storms between Dec. 1 and the end of February to end a drought, according to The Sacramento Bee

However, all the rain and snow California is experiencing may not be enough. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a winter outlook that revealed it still expects the Southwest region of the U.S. to receive “below normal precipitation where drought conditions continue in most areas.”

NOAA did give some hope to Northern California, where drought conditions are most likely to improve, along with the upper Midwest. 


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