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California drought levels recede in the face of winter storms

About half of the state has been lifted out of the drought by a series of storms that drenched the region.

California has seen drought levels ease after a series of winter storms pounded the western United States with snow and rainfall, a boon to a state where extreme drought and access to water have been a persistent concern.

From Thursday the US Drought Monitor found that about 49 percent of California remained under a moderate or severe drought, but the rest of the state was drought-free or simply “abnormally dry.”

Three months ago, almost the entire state was experiencing drought, including some areas with “extreme” or “exceptional” levels.

“This week’s and last week’s Pacific weather systems contributed to the abundant precipitation received from atmospheric rivers since December 2022, especially over California and states to the east,” the Drought Monitor said.

The portion of the state experiencing “extreme to exceptional” drought has also fallen from about 40 percent three months ago to zero.

“Most reservoirs in California have been refilled with water levels near or above average, but water tables remain low and can take months to recover,” according to the Drought Monitor.

While the rains have provided a welcome boost to the state’s water supply, they have not negated the long-term challenges California faces due to climate change.

In the short term, however, the tens of trillion gallons that have soaked California will help address predicted water shortages for the state.

In December, the state Department of Water Resources announced that municipalities would receive a fraction of their requested water allocations for 2023, as supplies were scarce due to the drought. But in the aftermath of the storms, the department increased allocations from 5 percent to 30 percent, increasing water supplies for many residents.

A series of “atmospheric rivers” — long, narrow bands of intense moisture — lashed the state from late December to mid-January, further complemented by another series of powerful winter storms in February.

If the rain helped alleviate California’s devastating drought, it also caused flooding and disruption in much of the state, resulting in at least 20 deaths.

The extreme changes between drought and heavy rain can also cause problems for wildlife, which has little time to adapt.

“These extremes are really taking their toll on the landscape, the wildlife and us,” Beth Pratt, regional director of California’s National Wildlife Federation, told Reuters news outlet.