Hillel Aron

(CN) — Local water agencies received good news from the state of California on Wednesday: thanks to early gains in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the State Water Project is increasing its allocation to 35% of what agencies had asked for.

“We’re hopeful that more storms this week are a sign that the wet weather will return, but there remains a chance that 2023 will be a below average water year in the northern Sierra.” California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said in a written statement. “Careful planning and the use of advanced forecasting tools will enable the Department to balance the needs of our communities, agriculture, and the environment should dry conditions continue this spring and into next year.”

State water officials had initially allocated water agencies just 5% of their requested supply in December, thanks to what was expected to be a fourth year in a row of extreme drought conditions. But an exceptionally wet January convinced the state to increase that allocation to 30% by the end of that month. And while February was mostly dry, with less than a half inch of rain in the entire state, recent data collected on the Sierra snowpack convinced officials to release more water.

And that's not all: Southern California is expecting its biggest storm of the winter, perhaps even of the decade, starting Thursday. Some weather watchers are predicting more than 100 inches of snow to fall on mountains in the next five days. And the National Weather Service in Los Angeles issued what is believed to be the first blizzard warning in decades.

“Snow accumulations up to 5 feet and wind gusts in excess of 55 mph are expected,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter. “Low snow levels will mean that this could be the largest amount of 24-48 hour snowfall seen in decades for our Ventura and Los Angeles County mountains.”

The state's snowpack typically peaks around April 1. Should dry conditions return to California before then, water allocations to local officials could still be revised downward.

At a press conference in January, Nemeth was quick to point out that the rise in water allocations didn't mean the state's long-running drought was over.

"We are not out of drought in California," she said at the time, "but this certainly makes a significant dent."