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Northern California bracing for much-needed rain, snow

While needed, the storms won't likely do much to dent the historic drought gripping the Golden State.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — It's looking likely December will bring a series of storms to Northern California, raising hopes for a wetter winter than last year.

"Could be a solid one too with strong gusty winds and periods of heavy rain," the National Weather Service for the San Francisco Bay Area region tweeted on Tuesday.

The weather service has also issued a winter storm warning beginning 10 p.m. Wednesday and lasting until 10 a.m. Friday. Travelers can expect traffic difficulties in the foothill and mountain regions throughout Thursday. 

The southern Cascades including Mount Shasta could see 10 to 30 inches of snow, while the Sierra Nevada range could see one to three feet, making chain requirements likely and road closures possible. Wind gusts of 55-65 miles per hour could bring near-whiteout conditions at times.

In addition to mountain snow, much of Northern California could see an inch or more of rain Thursday, with more likely in the hills of the North Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A map of California showing where, in pink, heavy snow is forecast to open December with. (National Weather Service via Courthouse News)

The National Weather Service said residents should expect the active weather pattern to continue into the weekend, with Friday looking mainly dry. The storms will also usher in colder air and a freeze watch has been issued for much of Northern California. 

Eric Kurth, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said the Thursday storm is a quick mover, while the second storm could last from Saturday into Monday.

The state is still looking to narrow the gap from the last dismal water year. The California Drought Monitor map updated Nov. 23 shows most of California in severe drought or worse, with a significant portion of most of the Central Valley and Southern California at exceptional drought. 

Kurth said compared to last year, when the state had received around 16 inches of total precipitation by this time, this year is very behind — measuring at just 4.3 inches or half of normal precipitation as of Wednesday.

“Last year, we had a really heavy storm in late October, and November was actually below normal after that,” he said, until more rain and snow arrived last December.

But if a total of seven inches of rain and melted snow hits the mountains from both storm systems by this weekend, that could push the state above normal for the season, Kurth added. 

“It’s certainly encouraging to see systems like this,” he said. “We have some snowpack already, so we'll be adding some additional feet. Building a snowpack this time of year is certainly good news.”

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