And with more storms on the horizon, the mountains could see more rain that may lead to flooding.
“Now that we have a saturated snowpack, we’re probably not going to get a lot more storage from the rain that falls on it,” said Andrew Schwartz, the lead scientist and manager at the Central Sierra Snow Lab of the University of California, Berkeley. “Meaning that if we do get rain, it’s likely that we will see some additional melt. So we’re really just crossing our fingers that it stays as snow.”
The situation underscores California’s water conundrum: The state desperately needs a very wet winter, but any time it is drenched by a big storm, there is also a risk of damage and chaos.
“This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate,” Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.
The latest storm is part of a series of atmospheric rivers — channels of moisture from the tropical Pacific Ocean — that meteorologists expect will continue until mid-January.
The atmospheric river that drenched the West Coast last week killed at least five people. Another storm system soaked California again before barreling east across the country on Tuesday, spawning strong tornadoes, thunderstorms and flooding in parts of the Plains, Upper Midwest and South after dropping snow on Utah and Arizona.
That storm was expected to decrease in intensity as it moved toward the East Coast, the Weather Service said. More rounds of heavy precipitation are expected to hit California on Saturday, and again on Monday.
Shawn Hubler reported from Sacramento, Soumya Karlamangla from San Francisco, Jill Cowan from Los Angeles and Jacey Fortin from New York. Reporting was contributed by Julie Brown, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Christine Hauser, Judson Jones, Holly Secon and John Yoon. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.