California’s snowpack is the highest on record, storing 235% of the normal amount of water, the California Department of Water Resources. A parade of 17 atmospheric rivers since December have dumped more than 700 inches at multiple measurement locations across the Sierra Nevada mountains.
While the heavy snow has dramatically, though not completely, alleviated the state’s drought, the whiplash also brings real dangers, including heightened avalanche risks and (later in the year) flooding, in California and across the Mountain West.
How much flooding occurs depends on how quickly the snowpack melts, which could also have ramifications for the summer fire season. “A best-case scenario will be a shift to a drier pattern with a gradual transition to near-average spring temperatures,” Jim Steenburgh, a snow expert and atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Utah, told the Washington Post.. “A worst-case scenario is one in which we stay cold and snowy into May at upper elevations and then shift to a hot, dry, sunny pattern.” (Washington Post $, Axios, Washington Post $, AP, KCRA Sacramento, Courthouse News; Climate Signals background: Extreme precipitation increase, Drought, Wildfires)