Federal forecasters say winter rains, snowfall likely won't end California's drought

Associated Press

Parts of California could receive above-average rain and snow this winter but not enough to end the ongoing drought, federal forecasters said Thursday.

The state's northern and southern regions might receive above or normal rain and snowfall starting in December, but the drought likely will "persist or intensify" in most of the state, said Mike Halpert, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

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The announcement predicts precipitation for December through February, when snow falls in the Sierra Nevada mountains forming a snowpack that forms a year's supply of runoff.

The forecast puts the state on course for a fourth drought year.

California has experienced three consecutive dry years, with Gov. Jerry Brown in January declaring a drought emergency. Central Valley farmers have left thousands of acres unplanted and drawn heavily on groundwater rather than mountain runoff. Hundreds of residential wells have run dry, and the state has instituted fines for residents caught wasting water.

Forecasters said 60 percent of California is in exceptional drought.

A much-awaited tropical weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean, called an El Nino, has yet to form, forecasters said. Halpert gave a 67 percent chance of a weak El Nino occurring by the year's end.

"Given the magnitude of drought, even in the best case, there's going to be serious drought in most parts of the state when the winter is over," Halpert said.