Endless snow, rain storms are helping pull CA out of drought

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

A drone view shows the Los Angeles River swollen with rainwater, February 26, 2023. Photo by Ted Soqui/SIPA USA.

Another atmospheric river storm system is expected to drench California starting Thursday night. It’s the latest in what feels like a never-ending series of storms that have pummeled the Golden State since the end of last year. And while it’s brought record snowfall, a warmer and wetter storm brings the potential for dangerous flooding across the state. 

Andrew Schwartz is the lead scientist and station manager at UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, northeast of Sacramento. So far, the lab’s recorded nearly 50 feet of snow. 

“We have a lot of snow piling up on these towers. Some of them are up to 15 feet tall. And we're actually getting the snow completely topping over those towers now. So we are definitely starting to get some things buried here on the site that ordinarily we wouldn't expect. But that's the cost of having a good winter. And if that's the worst of it, then I'm happy,” he tells KCRW.

So far, Schwartz says the number of storms hitting California is creating favorable conditions for building a deep snowpack in the mountains. They've also helped remedy the state’s short-term drought characteristics, pulling regions out of severe and exceptional drought and into more moderate conditions. But he says it will take at least a few above-average wet winters to pull the state entirely out of drought. 

“We need multiple years of above-average conditions to really bulk up and get us out of drought. Our surface reservoirs fill quite quickly when we have big snowfall and big rain events and we get spring runoff. However, those aquifers take a lot longer to recharge,” Schwartz says.



  • Andrew J. Schwartz - lead scientist and station manager at the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab