Extreme drought nearly eliminated in California thanks to atmospheric rivers
Extreme drought, the second-highest level of drought, has been all but eliminated in the state of California after atmospheric river storms that have hit the state in recent weeks.
However, the extreme influx of moisture has been contained west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, doing little to mitigate lower water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both of the largest reservoirs in the country.
California’s extreme drought fell from 27.1% last week to 0.32% in figures released Thursday, according to the US Drought Monitor. Severe drought, the third highest, fell from 71% to 46%.
Just last week, parts of California and Nevada that had previously been in exceptionally dry conditions no longer qualified for the highest level of concern because of the extra moisture.
Parts of California have had more than 3 feet of rain since Christmas, while the Sierra Nevada mountains have had a record snowy start to the season, already surpassing seasonal averages.
The data includes rain collected through Jan. 9 at 7 a.m. Eastern Time, but not the past two days of heavy rain.
Experts say it will take several seasons of 120% to 200% of normal rainfall and snowfall to eliminate the drought in the West. However, the Sierra Nevada region already receives between 87% and 192% of its normal rainfall for the season.
Rain is helpful, but snowpack is even more important—in fact, preferable—because it melts slowly and is better absorbed by the soil and later also contributes to the “water bank” for spring and summer, Nate Stephenson, scientist emeritus at the US Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, told ABC News.
California currently has 226% of its normal snow accumulation for this time of year, more than the normal amount measured on April 1, when snow accumulation is typically at its peak.
Soil moisture in California has also improved significantly — with a reading of 100% on Tuesday, down from 2% on Nov. 1. The humidity is likely preventing mass tree dieback in the state, experts told ABC News.
Some of California’s largest reservoirs are also beginning to recover, but they remain well short of their typical average for this time of year.
Located in Northern California’s Shasta County, Shasta Lake currently has a capacity of 41% compared to an average of 67% for this time of year.
Lake Oroville and Lake Folsom are currently at 46% and 42% capacity, respectively, compared to average storage capacity of 85% and 100% for this time of year, according to the data.
So far, the flooding hasn’t helped the Colorado River basin, the region most in need of help, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell, as they’re in the middle of a massive drought. 22 years old.
Lake Mead is at 28% capacity after reaching record highs last summer.
Daniel Amarante and Daniel Manzo of ABC News contributed to this report.
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