With Thursday’s update to the official U.S. Drought Monitor comes more good news for California: less orange and more yellow. In other words, a shrinking area of California is seeing drought conditions.
One long slice of the state along the California coastline is newly out of the drought. In a stretch that follows Highway 1 down the coast, most of Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are considered “abnormally dry” – an improvement over two weeks ago, when the whole area was in “moderate” or “severe” drought.
For many of the coastal communities now classified as drought-free, getting there wasn’t painless. The deluge of late December and early January caused flooding and triggered mudslides, especially in burn scars of recent wildfires.
Highway 1 remains closed in parts of Big Sur as crews work to repair damage caused by three major slides.
Parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and Imperial counties have also emerged from drought conditions in recent weeks. Up north, Humboldt and Del Norte counties are also looking especially good.
Just one month ago, more than a third of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought, pictured in dark red and maroon on the map below. This week, the U.S. Drought Monitor classified no parts of the state in those direst categories.
In the Central Sierra Nevada, the water content of the snowpack is 220% of normal to date. In the Southern Sierra, it’s 260% of normal to date.
“The automated sensors are registering what they would consider a full seasonal snowpack, about what we would expect on April 1,” state climatologist Michael Anderson told reporters earlier this month.
The snowpack supplies roughly a third of California’s water when it melts and runs off into rivers and reservoirs.
Locally, some reservoirs have seen significant rises in water levels but there are still significant deficits to overcome. The largest reservoir, Shasta, is at just 55% of capacity. The huge Oroville reservoir is above its historical average but at just 63% of capacity.
“The good news is that they’re off historic lows,” Anderson said of the big reservoirs. “The challenge is that they still have a lot of recovery to make before they would be back to normal operating conditions.”
And there’s concern that the rains could abruptly stop. The end of 2021 was marked by significant storms, but the start of 2022 saw months of bone-dry weather.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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