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FutureStarrCalifornia Digs Out From Barrage of Snow Before the Next Storm
Winters in the Sierra Nevada range are often marked by storms that blanket this 400-mile rocky expanse referred to by naturalist John Muir as "the Range of Light."
As snowmelts, it is captured in reservoirs and released to replenish underground aquifers that provide water for cities, farms and the environment.
Water is essential to safeguarding Minnesota's fragile ecosystem and reducing flooding. That is why dam operators are anxiously awaiting the massive snowfall expected this winter.
California's drought may not be over yet, but there are signs that a new storm could bring the state its first meaningful rainfall in eight months. A low pressure system churning in the Pacific might be strong enough to become California's 10th atmospheric river of the season - which typically drenches Northern California with rain and helps ease its drought, according to climatologist Mike Anderson on Monday.
Wednesday and Thursday are expected to bring heavy rain and strong winds to Northern and central California, according to the National Weather Service. A storm warning has been issued for Sacramento, Redding, and parts of the Bay Area; wind gusts could reach 50 mph in these regions.
As the storm moves into Sacramento Valley, there is a high probability of flooding. Additionally, high winds from the storm could knock trees over and bring down power lines.
Wednesday afternoon, several streets in Sacramento were shut down due to fallen trees. 28th Street between K and L streets was particularly affected near Sutter Medical Center and Sutter's Fort, according to a news release from the city.
Meanwhile, authorities were forced to close Interstate 5 over a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada, while blizzard warnings were lifted for mountains north of Reno and south of Las Vegas. Caltrans shut down 90 miles (145 kilometers) of highway in the eastern Sierra, while several Trans-Sierra highways required chains for vehicles.
Later this week, a new weather system is expected to arrive that is colder than the New Year's Eve storm that brought heavy snowfall to the mountains, according to the National Weather Service. This could add additional snowpack to the Sierra Nevada mountains - an essential source of water for urban Californians and an important component in California's drought response efforts.
The storm is expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada and possibly 3 feet for some northern parts of Sacramento Valley, such as the Sierra Foothills. Furthermore, it could cause widespread travel disruptions and power outages, especially in mountainous regions.
A series of Pacific storms has brought much-needed rain to one of America's driest states, but it will take some time before it completely ends the drought there.
Though the recent storms were brief, another round of heavy rain and snow is forecast for the coming week. Most notably, 41.7 feet of snowfall has fallen in the Sierra Nevada since October - making this winter one to remember for many California ski resorts, including Mammoth Lakes.
In Southern California, two major highways were shut down but residents got to experience snow for the first time in more than a year. Los Angeles experienced this rare occurrence but had plenty of equipment on hand for snow removal. Most areas were dry by Wednesday morning with only a few areas still snowbound. According to California's leading weather agency, this week's precipitation is an important step toward creating a more balanced climate across the state.
California is renowned for its stunning natural splendor - Yosemite's towering cliffs, the majestic Pacific coastline, and Joshua Tree's sheer granite walls. Yet this region also boasts some of America's most productive farmland. It's no wonder why so many people adore this state!
In fact, more than half of America's fruits and vegetables are grown in the Central Valley region - and most of those crops are irrigated.
Irrigation is more than just a source of food; it plays an integral role in the economic fabric of many communities in Central Valley. Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres are planted throughout this region to provide much-needed water to nearby farms and extend growing seasons.
These systems are essential resources for the region, but they also come with their own risks. The southwestern United States is susceptible to drought and it's impossible to accurately forecast precipitation in the Central Valley. Furthermore, landslides that can occur when soil freezes over in winter pose a significant danger.
California's population is growing and the southwestern United States becomes more urbanized, leading many to seek ways to protect natural areas. The Central Valley serves as a wildlife refuge with an ecosystem once dominated by pronghorn antelope, elk, and other native animals.
Though abundant in biodiversity, the Valley faces numerous issues. A rapidly growing population, high unemployment and poverty rates, and low household incomes are just a few of the difficulties confronting its residents.
Nature's resources have also been depleted, leaving fewer opportunities for animals and plants to thrive. Some species have become extinct in the Central Valley while others have seen marked decreases.
The region still supports some endemic species, like the tule elk and San Joaquin kit fox. Additionally, it's home to numerous rare and endangered animals like Fresno kangaroo rat and yellow-billed magpie.
The region is surrounded by faults such as the San Andreas and Garlock that could cause earthquakes. Even mild ones - like the one responsible for October 2018's wildfires - can cause significant destruction and disruption to communities.
Scientists in California have described the Sierra Nevada mountains as "winter wonderland," but they've also experienced dramatic swings between drought and wet weather due to climate change - something scientists refer to as a "weather whiplash".
While this season's snowfall has been impressive, it's too soon to tell whether it will make much of a difference in the ongoing drought. Measurements of snowpack are currently at 142% above normal, but that number doesn't guarantee continued coverage through spring, according to Kyle Roerink from conservation group Great Basin Water Network.
Snowmelt helps recharge aquifers and fill major reservoirs with water for cities, farms and the environment. But when there are few storms, water supplies become depleted and rivers cease to exist.
Even more significantly, water provides habitat for wildlife and helps stabilize mountain slopes that could crack or collapse during avalanches, especially during years with heavy snowfall. Some of the world's most iconic mountain ranges - Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe - depend on this water supply, according to David Schwartz from California's Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.
Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains can be especially deadly. Heavy winters that come to a region too quickly for some animals--for instance, bighorn sheep--and for small herds it may even mean the end of them all together.
The Sierra Nevada region is home to a rare species of red fox that uses its fur-covered toe pads as natural snowshoes, along with other animals adapted for high alpine environments. Unfortunately, even with these adaptations these animals remain vulnerable when snow stops falling.
If you're planning to visit the mountains this winter, it's essential that you prepare ahead of time and bring appropriate gear. Snow boots and a ski or snowboard helmet are essential components for safe and enjoyable adventures in the snow.
If you're not the outdoorsy type, renting a snowmobile could be the ideal solution to help navigate mountain terrain and get around. These machines are built for all conditions and can be rented in many states at lower costs than renting cars or planes.