Fox News Weather Center

Major Storm Eases Drought in California

As severe to extreme drought continues to grip much of California, the first significant storm since early December is bearing down upon the state.

A persistent ridge of high pressure that has been stationed over the western United States for the last several months has crumbled during the past couple of days.

This has allowed a storm track that had been sending storms into far northern Canada to dive southward, right into the Pacific Northwest and California.

While the widespread sunshine and warmth of the last few weeks may be over for now, the change in weather is marked by very beneficial, drought-easing rain and snow, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Elevations above 8,000 feet can expect snowfall amounts to exceed at least 2 feet through Friday evening. Winds will gust over 90 mph across the higher ridges.

Lower elevations, such as Lake Tahoe, can expect snowfall amounts to range from 6-12 inches through Friday.

Interstate 80 over Donner Pass and Highway 50 over Echo Pass will be heavily impacted by blinding snow and high winds. Chains on vehicles are a must, as well as a winter weather survive kit in your vehicle containing a blanket, a shovel, matches and flares.

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Of course, your best bet is to hold off on any travel through the Sierra Mountains until the storm is over.

Soaking rain in the lowest elevations will bring rainfall of 0.25 of an inch in San Francisco to as much as 2.00 inches or greater in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

To but this storm into better perspective, consider that Lake Tahoe, located in the Sierra Nevada range, has only had a total of 15.9 inches of snow since Oct. 1. The average snowfall for the region from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31 is 97 inches. So the snowfall deficit is 81.1 inches for the 2013-2014 season thus far.

The snowpack that builds in the fall and winter months in the Sierra Nevada is important because it contains California's water storage reservoir for the typically very dry spring and summer months.

Though it will take more than one big storm to make a huge dent in the drought, this storm is a step in the right direction.