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Could California finally get another "miracle March" to drown out its historic drought?
Forecasters are keeping watch as the state is poised for another wet week after dangerous and deadly El Niño-fueled storms struck California last weekend and flooded out some lower-lying areas.
While this next blast of rain isn't expected to be as powerful, forecasters are hopeful it could signal a turnaround from a dry February that was only exacerbated by the warmer, summer-like conditions.
"This is going to put a dent into some of the drought, but it’s not going to take it away by any stretch," San Diego-based meteorologist Mark Moede told NBC News on Wednesday.
Rains will start moving in on Friday, Moede said, with the hope that severely impacted reservoirs could get refilled. The statewide snowpack is at about 83 percent of normal for what it should be this time of year — and it's critical because it can account for some 30 percent of the state’s water supply in the spring and summer, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Still, it's a noted improvement from last year, when the snowpack was just 5 percent of normal during the drought, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The city of Sacramento had gone 14 days before its most recent rainfall, worrying forecasters that the much-hyped El Niño pattern coming in from the Pacific — and expected to usher in extreme weather — had fizzled before it even ramped up.
But the return of the storms this month in parts of California has drawn parallels to 1991, when a "miracle March" that brought record rains staved off a water shortage. It was also credited with saving the ski season.
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"People were fearing water restrictions for the summer," Moede said. "All of a sudden, March came, the skies opened up and brought some much-needed rain."
But whether that can happen again this year isn't certain in what was forecasted to be a robust year for El Niño throughout California, he added. Either way, it would take three to five years in a row of average perception to positively impact drought-damaged areas, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
"North and central (California) have seen significant rains and snows, but everyone is thinking, was this a dud?" Moede said of El Niño. "We’ll have to look back on it and do more analysis and see why it was such a dry period in February. We still don’t know."
Patzert isn't quick to write off this year's event as a bust — while parts of central and Southern California haven't seen much rain, other areas of the nation and the world have been impacted by a whiplash in weather. For whatever reason, California just hasn’t consistently been in the cross hairs, he added.
"The wet winter in Southern California and the hope that it would be a great drought buster, that was false advertising," Patzert said. "It took us many, many years to get into this drought in the West — one El Niño wasn't going to change that. It wasn't going to be the great wet hope people thought."