Winter not expected to end California drought

Parts of California could receive above-average rain and snow this winter but not enough to end the worsening drought, federal forecasters said Thursday. As a result, the drought likely will persist or intensify, said Mike Halpert, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. The announcement predicts precipitation for December through February, when snow falls in the Sierra Nevada mountains forming a snowpack that later melts as runoff and flows to rivers and reservoirs.

The forecast puts the state on course for a fourth drought year after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January.

Central Valley farmers have left thousands of acres unplanted and drawn heavily on groundwater rather than mountain runoff. Hundreds of residential wells have run dry, and the state has instituted fines for residents caught wasting water.

Forecasters have said 60 percent of California is in exceptional drought, and 2013 was the state's driest year on record.

A much-awaited tropical weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean, called an El Nino, has yet to form, forecasters said. The strong tropical systems often bring more moisture into California over the winter.

Halpert said there is a 67 percent chance of a weak El Nino occurring by the year's end, offering little help.

“Even in the best case, there's going to be serious drought in most parts of the state when the winter is over,” Halpert said.

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