January 21, 2010 / 9:02 PM / 10 years ago

Storms bring badly needed snow, rain to California

* California water officials warn drought is not over

* More snow forecast Friday, but longer outlook uncertain

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The winter storms slamming California this week have dumped so much snow in its mountain ranges that snowpack water content levels were above normal on Thursday, a welcome sign in a state that had resorted to rationing after three years of drought.

The extra snow, and particularly its high water content levels, augers well for California, which in December was forced by critically low water supplies to cut planned deliveries to cities and irrigation districts to just 5 percent of contracted allotments.

State water officials cautioned that one week of heavy rain and snow was not enough to mark the end of the drought, which is entering its fourth year in 2010, but sounded cautiously optimistic.

“It’s a little early yet to say that the drought is over,” California Department of Water Resources spokesman Don Strickland said. “We certainly would like be able to say that, and we hope things continue in this positive vein, but because the weather is so changeable we might be right back in the same boat come beginning summer.”

“But it’s looking good right now,” Strickland said. “Certainly we have reason for optimism.”

According to measurements on Thursday, as the fourth and potentially most powerful of the week’s storms began to slam California, the average water content of mountain snowpacks, considered the state’s biggest reservoir, was at 107 percent of normal.

Northern California mountain ranges drain into large reservoirs that supply the state with water. All of them were at well-below-normal levels even after a week of heavy rain.

“We’re starting out with a very positive amount of precipitation, it’s just a question of how long that continues,” Strickland said. “Its only Jan. 21 and snowpack usually reaches its peak on April 1, so there’s quite bit of time left.”

“If the weather patterns change the snow could essentially be gone by April 1,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

More snow — possibly as much as four feet (1.2 metres) — was forecast for Northern California mountains by Friday.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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