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More than 16% of California moves out of drought, U.S. report finds

California’s remarkably wet winter has significantly reduced drought, with large parts of the state — including the coast of Humboldt County, much of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, and the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu — no longer considered in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The latest guess, released Thursdayshows that nearly 17% of the Golden State has exited the drought — up from 0% two months ago and just under 1% last week.

Officials attributed the development to recent winter storms that dropped massive amounts of rain and snow in several regions, including Southern California and the Sierra, as well as the series of nine atmospheric river storms that battered California in January.

“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 eastern states,” the latest update said.

According to their maps, which include data on hydrology, soil moisture and other climate indices, “The mountains and foothills of the Sierra Nevada in central California are now free of drought and abnormal drought for the first time since January 2020.”

The rain and snow followed on the heels of California’s driest three years on record, contributing to dramatically low reservoir levels, urgent conservation orders and a statewide emergency. That statement, issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2021, remained in effect as of Thursday.

But there’s no denying that the moisture made a difference. Statewide snow cover is 192% of normal, according to state data. In the southern Sierra it is 232% of normal. Snowpack typically provides about one-third of California’s water supply.

Snowpack was so big that the Yosemite Valley broke a 54-year-old daily record on Tuesday, when 40 inches of fresh powder fell, surpassing the record of 36 inches set in February 1960. As much as 15 feet fell in some areas of the parking lot over the course of the storm.

Reservoirs have also received a boost 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 expected next week and possibly all of March.

Still, the Drought Monitor estimates that about a quarter of California remains in the third worst category: severe drought. That area includes parts of eastern San Bernardino and Inyo counties, as well as multiple counties in the northern part of the state.

About 24% of the state has a moderate drought and 34% is classified as “abnormally dry”.

While the update represents measurable relief from the drought, the report’s authors note that three years of drought have further lowered some historically low water tables and some aquifers “take months to recover.”

Southern California’s other major source of water, the Colorado River, also remains perilously low as the American Southwest experiences one of its driest two-decade periods in more than 1,200 years.

State water officials are expected to meet Friday for their third snow survey of the season and an update on how all the welcome white stuff will affect the state’s water supply.