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California Storm Brings Welcome Rain During Record-Setting Drought

AUDIE CORNISH: This is what Californians have longed to hear.


CORNISH: Rain, from a powerful storm that's drenched much of the drought-stricken state for two days. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports the storm has provoked a few headaches but a lot more smiles in Southern California.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Is two inches of rain anything to write home about? In Southern California it is. The storm is a big deal. Just ask Rich Atwater. He's president of the Southern California Water Committee, which represents nonprofits and utilities that secure water supplies for about 20 million people.

RICH ATWATER: I live up in Pasadena next to the San Gabriel Mountains and we probably got three or four inches in the last day or so.

SIEGLER: But Atwater's about to deliver the buzz kill - this storm isn't going to put a dent in the historic drought.

ATWATER: We probably need storms like this almost every week or two through March to get us even to a, you know, above normal wet winter.

SIEGLER: And forecasters say that's highly unlikely. In the short-term what's more probable? Mudslides. Nervous home owners next to wildfire-scarred hillsides and canyons have been stacking up sandbags. Our colleague at member station KPCC here in LA, Sharon McNary, has been out in some of the canyons today.

SHARON MCNARY: I'm at a debris basin at the top of Rainbow Drive in Glendora, a city at the base of some burned mountains in the San Gabriel Mountains area. There's been concern in the city about mudslides coming down and hurting the community. The streets are lined with concrete K-rails and sandbags but so far the concern has not been realized. They've done a lot of work to keep it that way. About 2 a.m. this morning, a work crew had to come up and clean out that whole debris basin and it looks like this morning's rains might've filled it right back up with mud.

SIEGLER: That's Sharon McNary of KPCC. Yet as the first big storm in months hammers this region, it's safe to say few people are complaining.

MIRIAM SEYOUN: Yeah, yesterday we couldn't jog because it was raining so - but we love it. It's been like, a long time that it hasn't rained. It's nice to have rain back, you know?

SIEGLER: This is jogger Miriam Seyoun at the popular Baldwin Hills Park in LA. Nearby, Ali Katamba is taking advantage of a brief respite in the deluge to work out.

ALI KATAMBA: Actually, when you are here you can't even realize the rain because you are sweating and all that so you feel good.

SIEGLER: But running and even walking in parts of the city where decent rain hasn't fallen in months isn't really for the faint of heart. You have to dodge big puddles of water that really look like they could be public health hazards. Then there's all the runoff, that nasty cocktail of mud and trash pouring into the concrete canals that drain to the ocean. The storm has also brought flight delays at LAX and numerous accidents. See, there's so much old dried-up oil residue on LA streets and freeways that when it does rain like this, some roads turns into Slip'N Slides. Fortunately for commuters, this storm is expected to move out of the region later tonight.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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