Heavy rains cause flooding in California, but provide respite from drought

Carla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, the agency that manages the Golden State’s precious resource, said California should stay on a straight line during severe winter storms. On the one hand, the state desperately needs winter rains and snow to replenish water supplies before the annual dry spell that lasts from spring to fall.

But climate change has intensified weather extremes in the West, and prolonged heavy rains can cause devastating floods or landslides in recently burned areas. Especially warm storms can melt snow prematurely, sending water over mountains and already saturated cities.

“It’s kind of a Goldilocks situation,” Ms. Nemeth said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

On California’s ski slopes, unusually heavy snowfall was a welcome gift. Mammoth Mountain, a resort bordering Yosemite National Park, is expected to see several feet of snow Saturday, with more snow expected in mid-January, said Lauren Burke, the resort’s director of communications.

The resort has already benefited from heavy snowfall this winter, including 10 to 15 feet of snow in the past month alone, Ms. Burke said. As of noon Saturday, the resort recorded 90 to 131 inches of snow at its base depth, the deepest in the country, according to the data. On the SnowIt monitors snow cover at resorts across the country.

“Even in this hot, wet, heavy snow, the snow has been good,” Ms Burke said. “It kind of tilts the mountain, creating a very deep platform.”

Significant snowfall has accumulated across the Sierra Nevada region, with the southern Sierra averaging 200 percent snowpack equivalent snowfall typically recorded at this time of year, according to the data. California Department of Water Resources.

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While warning against the risk of flooding, experts say the storms are on track to greatly benefit the state. With the water levels of major rivers and reservoirs in the West already below normal, it will take an unusual rainfall in a short period of time to replenish them. The worst floods occur when large waterways and reservoirs overflow their banks in populated areas.

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