An Atmospheric River in California Will Bring Two Feet of Snow to May in Unprecedented Snow Storm

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 02, 2024

Another storm moving through Northern California could have the region seeing as much as two feet of snow this month.

Meteorologists say that a “very cold” storm system is expected to arrive in the region this weekend.

Several Storms Have Moved Through the State Recently

In the past month, a number of high wind warnings and rain storms have passed through the Golden State.

Two men wearing hard hats and PPE sit in the bucket of a lift while working on large power lines set against a blue sky

Source: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

Widespread power outages were caused in Southern California last week due to extreme weather, winds, and rain.

Torrential Rain Causing Issues in the State

Although rain levels were much lower at the beginning of the year, atmospheric rivers, torrential rain, and heavy snowfall have affected infrastructure and travel within the area.

A white car sits next to a road, the entire area is covered in snow

Source: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

As the snowpack began to melt in April, heavy storms were moving through the region. More snow is currently expected and could serve a beneficial function.

Wildfire Season May Be Delayed

Although the snow may bring issues with car travel, infrastructure, and heating in northern areas, it may also have an unintended effect.

A single truck drives down a road with a wildfire and black smoke rages in a green forest

Source: Marcus Kauffman/Unsplash

Wildfire season usually begins in May in California. The cold front and high levels of precipitation may actually help delay the beginning of forest fires.

What Is an Atmospheric River?

Although they are common to the Pacific NorthWest and other rainy areas in the country, California usually does not experience atmospheric rivers.

A river next to lush greenery on a rainy day

Source: George Chernilevsky/Wikipedia Commons

They are often likened to rivers in the sky. When rainfall creates an above average level of water in the atmosphere, a “river” can form. They can also cause torrential rain and snowfall depending on how cold or warm it may be.

Meteorologists Making Big Predictions

US storm watcher Colin McCarthy says that the very cold system in the north is set to begin on Cinco De Mayo weekend.

An expansive view of a large mountain range with a lonely highway in the foreground

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His predictions have snow and heavy rain passing through the Sierra Nevada mountains in NorCal.


Bay Area Bracing for Heavy Winds and Rain

Similarly, the Bay Area in central California will be hit with heavy rain and rapid winds.

An upward view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a rainy day. In the foreground the ocean crashes against rocks on the beach

Source: Intricate Explorer/Unsplash

The offices of the National Weather Service (NWS) are warning residents to prepare for delayed travel. In February, a massive rain and wind storm blew through San Francisco, canceling the San Francisco Half Marathon.


Sierra Nevada Mountains To Receive the Most Snow

Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center says that although May is usually the dry season in California, the snow is expected to reach 24-inches in high elevation areas.

A small mountain with green bushes overcast by a large, dark storm cloud

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Oravec also added that he hopes the snow will melt into the ground and add much needed protection during the fire season.


Last Year Had an Abnormally Wet Winter

California experienced massive rains during the winter season last year as well.

A man walks down the street at night holding an umbrella. The street behind him is fuzzy and wet

Source: Todd Diemer/Unsplash

Several atmospheric rivers hit the state and excess moisture was added to the woods once fire season began.


Damage From Fires Last Year Were Minimal

Due to the extremely wet season in California, the fires that blew through the state actually burned fewer acres than in 2022 despite more active fires taking place.

A wildfire in a forest and beneath the silhouette of a mountain, the sky completely red and orange.

Source: Matt Palmer/Unsplash

Fire services and weather predictors hope that the trend of a wet winter and spring will help delay fires and add stress during the dry summer months.


Storms Will Work Their Way Through to the Rockies

The storm systems will begin anchored in the Northwest with below average temperatures for the next few days.

Ocean water splashing on black rocks on the beach

Source: Chuck G/Unsplash

After making landfall in the Golden State, the weather pattern is expected to move past the Cascades and into the Northern Rockies where much more snow will be deposited.