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Drought Monitor shows less than 1 percent of California now in 'extreme' drought

Two people watch as the Los Angeles fiver flows past the Atwater Village neighbourhood during a rain storm in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 2017.
Konrad Fiedler | AFP | Getty Images
Two people watch as the Los Angeles fiver flows past the Atwater Village neighbourhood during a rain storm in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 2017.

Storms in the past week helped bring rain and snow to California, resulting in a "significantly improved" drought picture for the state, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.

As a result, the latest monitor shows just 47 percent of California being designated at some level of drought intensity. Last week that figure was just over 50 percent and three months ago it stood at 73 percent.

While Northern California is essentially free of drought conditions, there are various levels of drought still in the state's southern and central areas. Yet the latest map showed major improvement for several southern counties.

"In California, the cumulative effect of several months of abundant precipitation has significantly improved drought conditions across the state," the monitor said. "Nearly all of California's major reservoirs are currently above historical average levels with the state's two largest reservoirs, Oroville and Shasta, currently at 126 percent and 124 percent, respectively."

In particular, major improvements were shown this week from two categories, "severe" and "extreme" drought.

The area of California with severe drought now stands at nearly 11 percent, down from 20 percent last week. And the area of the state with extreme drought (appearing in red on the drought map) now is below 1 percent compared with nearly 2 percent one week ago; that figure stood at about 43 percent just three months ago.

Extreme drought remains in three counties in Southern California — Santa Barbara, Ventura and to a lesser degree Los Angeles. Santa Barbara and northern Ventura counties continue to suffer drought conditions "as local reservoirs and groundwater levels have been lagging behind other indicators as a result of the cumulative effect of significant long-term precipitation deficits," the monitor said.

That said, the latest monitor map for California shows only a small portion of Los Angeles remains in extreme drought today although the rest of the county is in what's considered "moderate" or "severe" drought. Also, San Diego and Orange counties are largely free of severe drought conditions and now in moderate drought.

The monitor said heavy snowfall this week in the Sierra Nevada mountain range led to improvements on the map in areas with "abnormally dry" conditions as well as moderate" and severe drought conditions. To date, the statewide percent of normal snow water equivalent sits at a whopping 176 percent, according to the California Cooperative Snow Surveys.

Despite the improved drought conditions, the State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday voted to extend California's emergency drought regulations.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a major water wholesaler covering six counties in the state, had asked the state water board to let the emergency drought regulations expire at the end of this month. The MWD's general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger issued a statement Wednesday maintaining that "we are no longer in a drought emergency. Conditions have changed significantly since the drought emergency was declared [in 2014]."

The National Weather Service said Wednesday that the northern two-thirds of state and even some coastal regions in the south have seen anywhere from 200 percent to 400 percent of normal rainfall in just the past seven days. Another storm was forecast Thursday and Friday that is expected to dump as much as 1 inch of rain in some areas of northern California, including regions experiencing flooding and mudslides.