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Despite historic amounts of rain and snow, California is still in a drought emergency

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

California is getting historic amounts of rain and snow this winter.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Parts of Southern California were turned into a winter wonderland over the weekend after a winter storm dumped several feet of snow. In addition to the snowfall in higher elevations, the storm also brought several inches of rain to the area. And there's more wet weather in store this week, but the state remains under a drought emergency.

MARTÍNEZ: Hayley Smith covers drought and climate change for the LA Times.

Hayley, I took one look outside this weekend and decided to stay in and watch my wife bake bread. So tell us about the conditions and its impact on all the residents here in LA.

HAYLEY SMITH: So this was a low-pressure system that started in the Gulf of Alaska and kind of slowly carved a path down through California. And I would say it was somewhat of a novel storm in Northern California, but it was a historic storm here in Southern California. And that's for a few reasons. One, we saw a lot of record-setting precipitation, including really high rain rates. The weather station at the Burbank Airport measured 4.6 inches of rain on Friday, which wasn't just a record for the day, but it was actually its fifth-wettest day ever.

But even more than the rain, what made this storm so historic was the snow. We were seeing snow at elevations as low as 1,500 or even a thousand feet, which is exceptionally low. For reference, the Hollywood sign is at an elevation of about 1,500 feet, and there were flurries there. And some people even made snowballs. The downside of all that is that hundreds of thousands of people are still without power. We've seen downed trees, rockslides, debris flows, a number of dangerous water rescues. So the storm did do some damage.

MARTÍNEZ: Drought, though. Here's the thing. California has been in a drought seemingly forever. So how much of an impact is all of this doing on that?

SMITH: That is definitely a question on everyone's mind. Our reservoirs are notably fuller, and we've had record snowpack. We're at 173% of normal snowpack statewide right now. However, California's water supply does not only come from surface water. Groundwater didn't really benefit much from these storms, and neither did the Colorado River, which is a huge part of Southern California's water supply. So at this point, most experts and officials are saying it would still be premature to declare the drought over. But we are in much better shape than we were two months ago.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, more rain and snow is in the forecast for this week. I saw a lot of people stuck in flooding on the streets of LA and in other parts of California, too. So what should Californians prepare for?

SMITH: It should be weaker than what we saw this past week, but we still would advise people prepare for potential power outages and the hazards that I mentioned earlier and, of course, you know, not drive in standing water; learn how to turn on your windshield wipers, and probably avoid mountain passes that are still stuck and snowed out.

MARTÍNEZ: Hayley Smith covers drought and climate change for the LA Times.

Hayley, thanks.

SMITH: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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