Will the storm move the drought needle?

Bay Area water agencies, starved for snow and rain, are encouraged by this week's storm system.

But managers say it’s too early to say if it will have a lasting impact.

"This storm has made a very nice difference, we're not out of the woods, but it's a nice difference," said Steve Ritchie, Assistant General Manager for Water Enterprise for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.    

"Every year we'd like to get about 6 big storms, atmospheric rivers, so this is the first one".

Ritchie notes, every year is different, with the last two abnormally dry and 2021 beginning that way too.

"If you'd asked me how we were doing last week, I would have not been a very happy camper," admitted Ritchie.

He compares precipitation thus far to 1977, a historically dry year, and snowpack akin to 2015, one of the worst on record.

But all it took was a powerful and sustained system to slide south over the region to change the outlook.

"We are probably going to end up above average for the month of January because of the last four days of the month here," said Ritchie.

The year starts October 1 for water agencies monitoring supplies.

December's snow survey- first of the season- showed the Sierra snowpack was less than half what it would be in an average year.

The snowpack provides about one-third of the state's water needs, melting in the spring and filling reservoirs.

"This is a good storm and to turn our numbers around, we really need a couple of good storms," said Andrea Pook, spokesperson for the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

The next two months are traditionally the region's wettest, although February 2020 was a bust, bone-dry.

"The storm that we're seeing right now is a nice cold storm which is exactly what we want," said Pook.

"We're still definitely shy of where we want to be but hopeful January is going bring us at least a normal month, or close to normal."

On Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, visitors enjoyed the sight and sound of rushing water in every direction Wednesday. 

"I actually like being our here in the rain," said hiker Christine Anderson, "because there is hardly anyone else out here!"

The system of reservoirs on Mt. Tam supply central Marin communities with water service.

The lakes were at 56% of capacity pre-storm, but in 48 hours the watershed received almost 3 inches of rain, a boost to supplies and spirits.

"It wasn't the torrential downpour everyone was expecting, but I'm glad it's raining because we need it," said hiker Carly Ball.

Drought maps show persistent dryness across the United States, with California no exception, and Bay Area counties ranked as having "severe" or "extreme" conditions.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at debora.villalon@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU