Freak thunderstorm brings heaviest downpour to Palm Springs in six months amid California mega drought

·3-min read
Palm Springs, California. (Getty Images)
Palm Springs, California. (Getty Images)

Parched Palm Springs, in California, has received its heaviest rainfall in six months, bringing momentarily relief from a mega-drought that continues to wreak havoc on the western United States.

Sunday’s 0.08 inches of rainfall came during a dazzling thunder-and-lightning storm that woke residents from their beds at 3am.

It was caused by a high-pressure system which has brought increased moisture and humidity across Southern California, Elizabeth Schenk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

The “oppressive” humidity had made conditions “pretty uncomfortable”, said Schenk.

"This is pretty common in Arizona and southern Utah, it normally doesn’t come into Southern California," Schenk told the news site.

Residents welcomed the respite that the unseasonal thunderstorm brought from the scorching summer heat.

“In the Hellscape that is Palm Springs, this just happened. It POURED with thunder, lightning, the whole deal! I mean real rain! For about 30 minutes,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“Yes, I stood out in it and got gloriously soaking wet!”

Another local reported being woken at 3am by a clap of thunder, and mistakenly thought it was an earthquake.

“We don’t get much rain/thunder/lightning in the desert but plenty of earthquakes,” they wrote on Twitter.

It’s the latest in a series of unusual weather events in the city: a shower on 23 June was the first time the city had experienced rain on that day in at least 128 years.

​​Palm Springs, which lies 110 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, on the edge of the Coachella Valley, within the Colorado Desert, can often go months without registering a single drop of rain.

Prior to the freak 23 June downpour, Palm Springs had registered 67 days without receiving any measurable rainfall.

It has recorded only 19 days of rain so far this year, ten of which were less than .01 inches, and Sunday’s downpour was the heaviest recorded rain since 29 January.

Despite Sunday’s soaking, rainfall for the year is down significantly on its annual average, with around 1 inch falling since the beginning of the rainy season on October 1, much less than the four inches typically recorded there.

This week highs of 111F are forecast in the city, dropping to just 89F overnight. That’s slightly hotter than the average daily July high of 106F.

A vast swathe of western and southern states from New Mexico to Oregon and including Nevada, Utah and California are in the grips of an extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

In California, farmers are leaving fields barren due to the lack of water, and there are fears the heat is causing a wildlife catastrophe that will see endangered juvenile salmon stocks cooked to death in the searing heat.

Some 800 miles north in Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest, near the border with California, the Bootleg Wildfire continues to rage, having already burned through 300,000 acres of land and forced thousands to evacuate.

In Europe, the death toll from this week’s flooding has topped 190 people, with 160 confirmed dead in Germany and a further 31 in Belgium. Hundreds more are still missing in what is Germany’s worst natural disaster in 60 years.

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