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November Storms Bring Much-Needed Snow to California


Finally, a little good news from drought-beleaguered California. A set of early winter storms in November brought much-needed snowfall to the Sierra Nevada, allowing ski resorts in the area to open earlier than anticipated.

Between November 9th and 10th, the Reno-Tahoe Airport saw over 4.2 inches of snow accumulate with reports of over a foot of snowfall to the northeast of the city. Snowpack in some of the higher Sierra Nevada peaks was reported at 30 inches.

The storms were welcomed by local ski resorts, which were experiencing historically low snowfall; in the spring of 2015, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was lower than it’s been in 500 years. Spring runoff from the snowpack provides California with much-needed water, filling lakes and water reservoirs.

Two early winter storms do not, sadly, indicate the end of the drought. With 44 percent of the state under exceptional drought conditions and most of the rest under severe drought, much more precipitation is needed to restore and refill water reserves.

How much rain and snow the state receives this winter depends on El Niño, the weather-altering band of warm ocean water and weather changes that periodically affects the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Niño typically pushes winter storms northward from Mexico and Central America, bringing increased precipitation and below-average temperatures to California and much of the southern U.S. The current El Niño is particularly powerful, raising hope that California will receive a boost in precipitation.

Even if El Niño brings a wet winter to California, it would be a mistake to abandon water conservation efforts. Rather than seeing winter precipitation as the end of the drought, it’s more accurate to see it as a brief respite. California will need to continue improving its water conservation practices whether that means major or small policy shifts or individual responses to the drought, such as installing low-flow showerheads or switching from salt-based systems to water and energy conserving salt-free water softeners.

november storms in california

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