California, and especially its southern counties, are universally associated with clear skies and summer scenery. Beaches and club houses glitter its coastline, and are neighbours with the beating heart of American art and pop culture production that is Hollywood. Los Angeles County alone attracts a significant portion of California tourist activity, with 50.7 million tourists coming to the area in 2019, pouring $37.8 billion into the local economy and setting record-level numbers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic hampered this prosperity afterwards, LA County has since made an almost full recovery, as estimates suggest that the amount of tourists visiting the area has risen back to 46.4 billion (91% of the 2019 figure), with visitors pumping a smaller but still substantial $22 billion into the local economy. San Francisco also has a similar reputation, albeit on a smaller scale. The city of around 800,000 welcomed 21.5 million visitors, up from the 14.8 million it received in 2021, but this statistic is eclipsed by the record of 26.2 million visitors set in the year 2019, the year which many remember to be the last year where things ran smoothly without the chaos that we’re currently seeing in the 2020s today.


Therefore, current weather warnings for blizzard warnings, whiteout watches and avalanche threats run contrary to the status of summertime supergiant that California has been forged into. The snowline, usually relegated to high-elevation peaks, has advanced much closer to the coast, and has even reached some beaches. To be more specific, Los Angeles has now been issued its first blizzard warning since 1989, with forecasters predicting snow levels of up to 8 feet (2.4m) in the iconic mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles by Saturday. The mountains are also expected to experience powerful winds of 60-75 mph (96-120 km/h) while coastal areas may experience flooding. Lower elevated parts of southern California may also experience snow in addition to flooding caused by heavy rain as the storm moves south over the weekend. The snow elevation is also expected to drop as low as 1,500 feet, or in other words it will be at the same level as the famed Hollywood sign on Mount Lee. By Friday afternoon, more than 101,000 California homes and businesses had lost power as weather conditions were only expected to get even worse. 


These revelations come as a surprise, as it is not far-fetched to think that many living in this temperate state have never seen snow in the local area. The heavy levels of precipitation may also relieve some pressure on the environment given that California has seen two severe droughts in the last decade or so. The first of these occurred from December 2011 to March 2017 and included the driest period in recorded Californian history from late 2011 through to 2014. Around 102 million trees were destroyed from extreme heat conditions from 2011 to 2016, with the cause of the drought attributed to a region of high pressure in the Pacific Sea (nicknamed the ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’). This area prevented winter storms from reaching California, wreaking havoc on the state’s natural habitats. This cycle was only broken during March 2017 due to wet patterns caused by  atmospheric river-enhanced Pacific storms, which caused severe flooding, turning the tide concerning climate change from one extreme to the other. However, drought conditions weren’t given much time to improve given that 2020 signalled another 3 years of extremely dry weather conditions, with this period being the  driest on record in the last 126 years of Californian weather statistics. 


By the end of 2022, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 28% of the state was facing extreme drought conditions, down from 32% reported around a year earlier. Areas in the Golden State experiencing exceptional drought conditions have also increased to 7% from 1% a year earlier, and all counties in the state have been issued a drought emergency proclamation. This entailed asking residents to reduce their water usage by 15% more than what was required in 2020, and a regulation extended until January 2024 and outlaws watering lawns when it rains, decorative fountains without recirculating pumps and washing vehicles without an automatic shutoff nozzle. 


In an exceptional drought, agricultural yields are low, and river and lake levels drop, causing fish rescue and relocation programmes  to be implemented. Pine beetle infestations also occur in California forests, and since wetlands dry up, the survival of native plants and animals is low, and fewer wildflowers bloom. Wildlife death is widespread, accompanied by the appearance of algae blooms, and forest fires become a common occurrence. 

In an extreme drought, livestock need extra nutrition which is expensive, and cattle and horses are sold because little pasture remains. Fruit trees bud early, and producers begin irrigating in the winter. Fire season also lasts year-round and fires begin to occur in typically wet parts of state; burn bans are implemented. Water also becomes available in extremely limited quantities, meaning that reservoirs are extremely low, hydropower is restricted, and demands for water from urban and agricultural areas become insufficient. 

During a severe drought, which the rest of the state (45%) is experiencing, grazing land is rendered unusable and the fire season lasts longest. In other words, imagine the stereotypical desert hellscape with cracks in the earth. 

Therefore, it is fair to say that this storm has arrived just in the nick of time. Although reservoir and water levels still have a long way to go in terms of improvement, storm season in the Golden State is still not over, causing many who depend on the land there to have cautious optimism about the future. Another thing to add is that the patterns seen in California weather seems to suggest an alternation between moderate and extreme weather, so this phenomenon is only one phase of a seemingly never ending cycle.