More Than 40% of California Is Out of 5-Year Drought: Federal Monitors

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(Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor)

A series of powerful winter storms that has battered California in recent weeks has dramatically improved the state’s water supply, with a large swath of the state — nearly entirely in the northern part — emerging from the yearslong drought, federal monitors reported Thursday.

California is in its sixth year of drought, but recent storms that have drenched Northern California with much-needed rain and brought snow to the Sierra Nevada appear to have significantly eased drought conditions.

As of Tuesday, approximately 42 percent of the state is out of the drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Roughly 34 percent of the state is drought-free, while 7 percent is “abnormally dry.”

The drought-free areas are primarily in the northern part of the state, including in the Bay Area. The southern part of the state, however, remains mostly mired in the water shortage, including a portion of Los Angeles County that is still experiencing “exceptional drought.”

Still, the news is mostly good for a state that just three months ago remained completely parched, with more about 84 percent under drought and 16 percent abnormally dry, according to federal monitors.

In another harbinger of drought improvement, the Sierra snowpack — a key source of water supply in the state — jumped to 158 percent of normal by Wednesday; in the Southern Sierra, that figure jumped to 187 percent, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, parts of the state are still reeling from the wet weather that has triggered flooding, avalanches and forced dozens of people from their homes.

The storms have dumped more than 7 inches of rain since Monday and the National Weather Service says 6-12 feet of snow have fallen in the Sierra Nevada.

Forecasters expect things to start drying out on Friday.

“Over the next 36 hours we could see around another inch of rain and the mountains could see 12-18 inches of additional snow, CNN Meteorologist Taylor Ward said Wednesday.

Authorities rescued 49 people in Hollister on Wednesday after a neighborhood was flooded with 3 to 4 feet of water, according to the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department. Another 59 people were evacuated.

Farther north, Interstate 80 is closed and some roads have been washed out.

All this precipitation is working its way into the state’s lakes and reservoirs after years of drought.

The National Weather Service says Lake Tahoe’s volume has grown by about 33.6 billion gallons since the beginning of the year.

Water levels at Folsom Lake, east of Sacramento, have risen 28 feet since Saturday,

Lake Oroville, on the Feather River in Northern California, is up 45 feet.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in 2014, saying the state was facing “perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago.

It was not immediately clear whether Brown in the immediate future would lift water restrictions that were enacted as a result of the drought emergency, or keep them in the place.