California Awaits Brief Respite From Drought With Incoming Storms

California is bracing for two storms which are expected to dump the most significant rainfall in almost three years, promising a brief respite to the state’s drought.

Moderate to heavy showers on Wednesday were due to be followed on Friday by heavier torrents, a blessing for farmers and water management authorities but unwelcome news for motorists and organizers of the Oscars.

A weather system moving in from the Pacific will “broadside” the region, with rain strenghtening throughout Wednesday and ebbing on Thursday before a second, more powerful storm hit, said Bob Benjamin, of the National Weather Service. “It has the potential to be messy.”

The deluge is expected to dump between one and three inches of rain in coastal and valleys areas and five to seven inches in hills and mountains – a dramatic event by California’s desiccated standards.

“Big rain storms may hit #Malibu this week. Could these be the answer to the drought?” asked the Malibu Times.

The experts’ consensus: no. The rain will moisten soil, partly replenish reservoirs, may help save some crops and above 5,000 feet it will bring snow, boosting struggling ski resorts.

But it will add up to only marginal relief after 13 months of devastating drought. “It all goes in the plus column. But it is still far outweighed by the negative column,” said Benjamin.

Nasa underlined the drought’s impact on Tuesday by releasing images of Folsom Lake, a reservoir north of Sacramento, juxtaposing a July 2011 image, when it was 97% full, with a bleak, parched contrast taken last month, at just 17% capacity.

We're responding to the California's ongoing drought:

— NASA (@NASA) February 25, 2014

Authorities continued appeals to conserve water, stressing the deficit will remain huge. “Take advantage of the coming #LARain and simply shut your sprinkler systems off,” tweeted Don Knabe, chairman of the LA county board of supervisors.

President Barack Obama pledged tens of millions of dollars in federal aid when he visited Fresno last week in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency.

The drought has wrought havoc on a $45bn agriculture sector which supplies much of the country’s fruit, nuts, vegetables, wine and dairy products. The crisis could leave thousands of farm workers jobless and increase food prices.

Nasa announced on Thursday it was partnering with state agencies to apply advanced remote sensing and forecast modeling to better assess water resources and drought.

“Early detection of land subsidence hot spots, for example, can help forestall long-term damage to water supply and flood control infrastructure,” said Jeanine Jones, a manager at the California Department of Water Resources.

Not everyone will benefit from the rain. Officials warned that parts of the San Gabriel mountains scorched in last month’s wildfire – an unseasonal burn blamed on the drought – could dissolve into mudslides and send debris down slopes. Fire stations were offering sandbags. An electrical utility offered safety tips.

Motorists braced for traffic disruption: a drizzle can prompt southern Californians to drive extremely slowly or even stop. Hollywood also cast its eyes skyward: there was a 40% chance the second storm will drench the red carpet at Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony.

Some on social media mocked the city’s hyper-sensitivity to moisture given hurricanes and blizzards elsewhere in the US, coining terms like soakzilla, stormageddon and downpourpocalypse, via the hashtag #LARain.

“Only in Los Angeles do they start talking about an inch of rain a week before its going to happen,” tweeted one. “Must be winter in California. There are a few clouds in the sky,” tweeted another.


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