On March 30, the Jerry Brown, the new governor of California, announced that the state’s three-year “drought emergency” is officially over. It may be the first good news that the state has heard in years!
However, many of the state’s Munchkins aren’t dancing in celebration. They are buried up to their noses in snow. Parts of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains go as much as 600 inches (50 feet/20 meters) of snow this winter.
Since the snowpack is a crucial source of the state’s water, this is great news, just not for the folk who live the mountains.
What makes the snow so surprising is that normally California is warm and dry when the Pacific Ocean is experiencing a La Niña in the tropics. Instead the state had a “Pineapple Express” in December and a “Miracle March”.
December’s Pineapple Express was explosive. A lost tropical disturbance wandered all the way over from the West Pacific and slammed into California. For over a week the state was hit by record-breaking storm after storm. Hillsides were hit with between 12 – 24 inches of rain, with one mountain reporting 17 feet of snow. From California, through Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, regions reported up to 800% of their normal precipitation in that period.
La Niña settled in. January and the first half of February were dry. State officials worried. Then mid-February arrived and sunny California turned cold and wet.
It was cold and miserable, but for the parched state it was a “Miracle March”. Storm after storm swept through, raining on the valleys and snowing in the high mountains. Even the first day of spring saw a major storm that forced the shutdown of major highways and left thousands without electricity.
Of course, this is California. Thousands of runners in the Los Angeles Marathon scampered through pouring rain and lightning strikes. The winner, Markos Geneti, made good time but about 100 runners had to be treated for hypothermia.
You’ve read the good news for California – here’s the great news for the rest of America. The state still stresses conservation but it is lifting water rationing to the state’s farmers. Hundreds of communities and many farms that provide fruits and vegetables to the nation will have enough water for their crops.
And the California Tourist Board would like to suggest – after you enjoy your cheaper fruits and vegetables, why don’t you come over for a late springtime or early summer ski trip. They have plenty of snow!
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.