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Will winter’s consistent Sierra snowfall save Californians from yet another drought?

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FEBRUARY 15, 2023

Walking around UC Berkeley’s campus this winter, I often pass Strawberry Creek, the stream that runs through campus, which has been flowing consistently. This steady flow of water that weaves through the buildings and libraries on campus has made me wonder of the possibility of a less severe drought this summer. 

In my Northern California hometown, there were times over the months of December and January where I had never seen the river so full of water, almost climbing towards the top of the banks. The Sierras have been getting record snow levels, with more than 225% of average snowfall in mid-January.

So does this huge amount of water mean we may be able to escape some of the drought conditions of August and September? Well, we know that once the snow melts it becomes readily available to areas of the state that need water such as large cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. This large amount of water means that rainfall has been filling up reservoirs at a fast rate. 

Interestingly enough, however, some of the storm’s precipitation has been falling as rainfall at higher elevations, which is a little unusual as you’d expect it to turn into snow higher in the mountains. This has led to a fast release of water down into the flatlands, with less being stored at higher elevations. This does not mean, however, that we don’t have lots of reserves in the Sierras.

Any water for California is good news. With increasing temperatures and water shortages for many years, a water conscious mindset has become almost second nature. For homeowners across the state, many have taken to changing grass to drought resistant shrubbery to reduce their water usage. Others have started to collect water in buckets when showers are heating up to water their yard or repurpose. Whatever strategy is being taken, the conservation of water has been instilled into our culture. 

I mainly notice drought conditions when I go to Lake Tahoe in the summers. My family and I typically go rafting or hiking alongside the Truckee River, which has seen years of complete emptiness amidst years of consistent water movement. Unfortunately, I have grown up to notice that the levels of water have been shrinking over time and if you really want to float down the river it is best to go earlier in the summer while water is still melting from the snowcaps. 

This year’s heavy rainfall and snow has given me hope that amongst the travesty caused by these atmospheric rivers, there will be fewer drought conditions that can also create a variety of problems amongst society. The National Integrated Drought System notes that recent weather events have shown to allow for improved drought conditions in the Central Valley, Southern California and the Sierras. 

It is unlikely that just this one winter’s rainfall will save us from severe drought, as many repetitive winters of consistent water would be the best solution. However, it is a good starting point for California to slowly escape the never-ending cycle of dryness. As winter comes to a close we will have better insight on the predictions of drought likelihood, but for now we can only hope that this year’s rainfall will provide a small refuge from California’s long dry spell.

Contact Ashley Carter at 


FEBRUARY 15, 2023