California drenched or blanketed in snow after holiday storm

A skier enjoys new snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort on their opening day. (Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is drenched with rain or blanketed in snow after a powerful Thanksgiving storm that arrived just as a withering, fiery fall had left the state facing the prospect of a return to drought.

Rain and snow showers continued in parts of the state Friday while skies elsewhere temporarily cleared but more inclement weather was on the horizon.

It was a remarkable turnabout in a week that began with thousands of people being chased from their homes by a wildfire in parched coastal mountains above Santa Barbara and worrisome data about California’s moisture levels.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said in its weekly report Wednesday that almost all of California was in a condition called “abnormally dry” and a small percentage was in early stages of drought.

According to the state Department of Water Resources, 75% of California’s annual average precipitation occurs from November through March and a small difference in the number of storms can determine a wet or dry year.

The storm spread rain and snow to most parts of the state, including the Sierra Nevada, where the snowpack stores about 30% of California’s water supply.

In the Eastern Sierra southeast of Yosemite National Park, the Mammoth Mountain ski resort reported the storm had dumped 4 feet (1.2 meters) of snow by Friday morning, with more continuing to fall.

The same amount piled up over two days at resort levels of Big Bear Lake, east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The storm also turned Thanksgiving travel into a nightmare in some places, including on major routes through the mountain passes of Southern California.

Heavy snow produced massive gridlock Thursday night on Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass east of Los Angeles and forced repeated closures of Interstate 15 in Tejon Pass between LA and the San Joaquin Valley.

Forecasters said the respite would be short-lived in some parts of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area.

The National Weather Service said an atmospheric river taking aim at the bay region was expected to bring rain and wind by Saturday and continue through Sunday, impacting returning holiday travelers.

A flash flood watch was issued in advance for the Sonoma County wine country, where a wildfire scorched more than 121 square miles (313 square kilometers) in October.

Fire-scarred Southern California will see its next storm arrive on Wednesday.

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