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California Drought: Is This Week's Rain A 'March Miracle' Or Barely A Drop In The Bucket?

STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) — The storms that this week caused authorities to issue evacuation alerts for nearly 30,000 residents in the Southland might seem severe enough to make a dent in the state's ongoing drought, but a flowing L.A. River belies an uglier truth.

An early March storm helped slow California's descent back into its dry spell, but similarly, the most recent, much-hyped intermittent downpour in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties will probably yield little snowpack, at least relative to what is needed to pull the state out of its drought.

California drought map, March 13, 2018
California drought map, March 13, 2018 (SOURCE: United States Drought Monitor)

The most current map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the areas hardest hit by the drought lying in the red areas in Ventura and L.A. counties, those facing some of hardest rain this week.

What some have dubbed a "March Miracle" will likely do little to get us out of the crisis.

The Weather Channel said this week 488 cm of snow had fallen in the Sierra Nevada in 18 days, adding it was nearly double that since late February, but below the mid-March average. That snowpack feeds the rest of the state throughout the year.

Talking to the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said, "I would call it a very helpful March.[...] It has brought us up from the bottom of the barrel in a lot of places, but it is not close." He added this week's storm "may not actually increase the snowpack at all."

Last January was the wettest month observed in 112 years of record, according to the San Joaquin precipitation index. Those rains temporarily pulled the state out of the drought. The percentage of the state that was in extreme drought went from a high of 60 to 2 percent that month.

Those gains were lost thanks to very hot and dry latter part of the year.

The editorial board of the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday published an op-ed called "Atmospheric river or not, California must be ready for the next drought," which warned that municipal and state leaders need to ramp up their conservation efforts to get through this drought or the next.

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