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After a historically dry opening to 2020, with nearly half the state in a drought, California's water situation appears to be rebounding.

First, Southern California was pelted Thursday by a large area of moderate rain, some locally heavy, with thunderstorms causing flooding through rates of precipitation exceeding a half-inch an hour. Los Angeles observed its wettest March day in nine years. Additional heavy rain fell Friday morning.

Over the weekend, it will be Northern California's turn to get soaked or, in the mountains, blanketed. Forecasts are calling for a major winter storm to slam the Sierra Nevada mountain range with as much as 4 feet of snow, 5 inches of rain, and wind gusts reaching 60 mph.

Due to the potential for heavy snow late today into Monday, the National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches from this morning through Monday morning for the Northern Sierra, Mount Shasta, Trinity Alps, and a small portion of the Coastal Range. The heaviest Sierra snow is anticipated to occur this evening into Sunday evening.

A wet pattern is likely to persist over the Golden State next week.

The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes said a possibility coming out of this stretch is "much-needed relief to drought conditions across much of the state." Even better, the midrange models have another storm system bringing precipitation to California by the middle of next week.

Unlike last winter, when a conveyor belt of atmospheric rivers fed storm after storm into the Golden State, ending the drought and filling reservoirs, 2019-20 was a historic bust until this week.

San Francisco took in no rain between Jan. 29 and March 5, including its first rainless February (historically its wettest month) since 1864. Meanwhile, downtown Los Angeles endured its fourth-driest January-February combo (0.36 inches) since record-keeping began there.

In addition to the 48.1% of California considered to be in a moderate drought, abnormally dry conditions are affecting another 30.4% of the state's 163,000-plus square miles. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, living in these parched areas are 54% of California's population -- more than 20.2 million residents.

But beginning last weekend, the storm door seems to have creaked open. The rainfall totals haven't been impressive -- for all of March through Wednesday, about one-eighth of an inch in Eureka and Sacramento -- but few would complain considering how little had come in the months before.

Thursday's rain in the Southland was a matter of delayed but not denied.

Two days after receiving a mere spritzing in Los Angeles when a soaking was forecast, a low-pressure system packing impressive instability for a late-winter storm thoroughly drenched Southern California from Ventura County to the Mexican border, with an emphasis on the Inland Empire. Over a three-hour span in the afternoon, about 1.6 inches of rain fell in the cities of Banning, Riverside and Yucaipa.

The rainfall totals were impressive, with the San Jacinto Mountains community of Idyllwild receiving 2.71 inches, Big Dalton Creek above the San Gabriel Valley city of Glendora seeing 2.33 inches, and Hollywood Reservoir taking in 1.76 inches. Downtown Los Angeles' gauge got 1.30 inches, bringing the total for the month to 1.60 (31% above average) and for the October-September water year to 8.92 (27% below normal).

An unstable atmosphere was key to this downpour, noted the National Weather Service's office for Los Angeles. The atmospheric ingredients in place were more typical of thunderstorm-prone areas of the South and Midwest.

In San Diego, North County got the most rain, as Encinitas, Vista and Carlsbad all topped an inch easily, while San Diego International Airport barely exceeded a quarter of an inch.

More rain is on the way.

A Section on 03/14/2020

Print Headline: Dry California gets needed rain

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