Natalie Hanson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Visitors are flocking to California’s world-famous national parks as the Golden State enjoys a year without any drought.

Following a series of storms between January and March, which packed the state's mountains with snow, weather-watchers say California is enjoying the benefits of an above-normal precipitation season.

After years of drought, 2024 is shaping up to be "abnormally normal," Scott Rowe, senior hydrologist at National Weather Service’s Sacramento office, said in a press briefing Tuesday morning.

This year's storms come after a wet year in 2023, which built up massive snowpack. After a dry fall that year, "we got very wet very quickly once we hit the calendar year 2024," Rowe said.

Many reservoirs are at or near maximum capacity, including California’s largest reservoir at Shasta Lake, which can hold more than 4 million acre feet of water. Only a small corner of desert in southeastern California is still facing drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a national drought-mapping project run by the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

The benefits of another strong wet year are already on display in California’s parks, as people flock to enjoy recreational opportunities. Visitors in May are a contrast from dry years, when people tend to visit such parks earlier in the spring, said Jeffrey Jenkins, assistant professor of parks and protected areas at the University of California in Merced.

“Usually, that resulted in less people using the Yosemite National Wilderness later in the year," Jenkins added. That's because — among other factors — visitors in dry years might have to contend with fires later in the season.

Thanks to two wet winters, though, Jenkins said that Yosemite National Park is expecting many visitors into the summer.

People are booking trips as much as a year ahead of time despite the recent drought, he said. “There’s such a high level of use.”

Precipitation directly impacts California's national parks, affecting everything from snowpack to freshwater quality.

Those factors can in turn affect outdoor recreational activities like snowboarding to fishing, Jenkins said. Without snow, in other words, there's no snowboarding.

The impact of drought on parks depends on where in the state those parks are located. Redwood National Park sees plenty of visitors even during drought years, due to its location in a relatively wetter part of the state. In the southern San Joaquin Valley, by contrast, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are more susceptible to drought conditions.

The impact of rain on visitor numbers shouldn't be overstated. After all, tourists visit parks like Yosemite at the same rate even during dry wildfire years, Jenkins said.

“People are not fazed by poor air quality,” he quipped.

Nor is California totally in the clear when it comes to dry and fire-making conditions. In the press briefing on Tuesday, Rowe said meteorologists were watching El Niño and La Niña conditions to see how precipitation and temperatures might by affected as California enters its dry season.

“The next several months are the driest periods for California, so there’s not much time to make up for the deficits we have,” Rowe said.