More than 16% of California is drought-free, the report said
California’s extremely wet winter has helped ease drought conditions significantly, with large swaths of the state no longer considered drought-prone, including coastal Humboldt County, much of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada and the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu. to federal authorities.
The latest estimate from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday, shows that about 17% of the Golden State has completely escaped drought, while an additional 34% is now classified as “abnormally dry.” That means less than half of the state remains in drought conditions, which range from moderate to extreme, the monitor said.
“The changes, not just in the last week, but through December 2022, are quite dramatic,” said Brad Pugh, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and co-author of the Drought Monitor. . At the end of last year, no part of the state was classified as non-drought and less than 1% was considered abnormally dry.
Officials attributed this to recent winter storms that brought heavy rain to several regions, including southern California and the Sierra, as well as the nine river storms that hit California in January.
“This week and last week, Pacific Ocean weather systems added heavy precipitation from atmospheric rivers beginning in December 2022, particularly over California and eastern states,” the latest update said.
According to their map, which includes data on hydrology, soil moisture and other climate indicators, “the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills of central California are now drought- and abnormally dry-free for the first time since January 2020.”
Rain and snow fell in California’s three driest years on record, contributing to extremely low reservoir levels, emergency conservation orders and the declaration of a state drought emergency. That proclamation, issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2021, remained in effect Thursday.
Jay Lund, co-director of the University of Davis Watershed Science Center, said it’s too early to lift the order — at least until April 1, which typically marks the end of the state’s rainy season and a full assessment. .
“It’s a tough call for the governor because California is such a big place and it’s so diverse, so some wet years California’s drylands can be dry and some years dry. , there may be parts of California that are not affected by the drought,” he said.
For example, parts of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California had a wetter than average season, but other areas, including the Sacramento Valley, were still below average, Lund said. “Because you don’t really know what it’s going to look like until the end of March this year and you don’t want to make a statement and back it off, it’s better to wait until the end of March.”
But it cannot be denied that humidity has an effect. The snowfall in the republic is 192 percent of the norm, Kazinform informs. In the Southern Sierra, it is 232% of the norm. Snowpack typically supplies about one-third of California’s water supply.
The snow was so heavy that 40 inches of fresh powder fell in Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, surpassing the record of 36 inches set in February 1960 and breaking a 54-year-old record. Up to 15 feet fell in some parts of the park. during a storm.
Reservoirs have also increased this winter, with Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville now at 60% and 73% capacity, respectively, compared to 34% and 37% two months ago. More rain and snow is likely next week and into March.
“The pattern for the next two to three weeks looks colder than normal, so we should be able to maintain the snowpack, and the signs are good for improving snowpack over the next couple of weeks.” said Poo.
Drought Monitor A quarter of California remains in the third worst category: severe drought. These areas include parts of eastern San Bernardino and Inyo counties, as well as several counties in the northern part of the state. About 24% of the state is in moderate drought.
Lund said the map can be a useful “rough indicator” of hydrologic conditions, but it doesn’t always reflect what materials are available. People who depend on groundwater or are concerned about forests and endangered species “may still be concerned about drought and the long-term effects of drought,” he said.
Indeed, while the update shows measurable drought relief, the report’s authors note that the three-year drought has further depleted some historically low groundwater levels and that some aquifers may take “months to recover.” reconstruction”.
Southern California’s other main water source, the Colorado River, also remains dangerously low as the American Southwest has endured one of the driest two decades in more than 1,200 years.
“In California, we have two things: chronic overuse of water relative to average water availability in many parts of the state, and we have natural variations in water availability between wet and dry land. parties,” Lund said. “We need to conserve more of these ‘wet years’ water and get used to using less of it. water, even in wet years.”
Department of Water Resources Director Carla Nemeth said officials will “assess the impact of the recent storm on the drought” in the coming weeks.
“It’s great to see improved conditions in the U.S. Drought Monitor,” Nemeth said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation in California, and while the recent rains and snow are promising, it will take more than one wet year for California to fully recover from the past three years — the driest on record. in the history of the state.
However, California’s water managers have been criticized for their response to wild weather this winter, which has often required flood control and stormwater collection efforts at the same time. As trillions of gallons have poured into the ocean during recent storms, many residents and elected officials have called on state and local agencies to do more to improve their response.
State water officials are scheduled to meet Friday to report on the third snowfall of the season.
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