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California drought begins to ease after 6 relentless years
Jill Odom | January 5, 2017
Snow surveyors working in the snow

Snow surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources perform surveys to determine the snow-water content level.
Photo: California Department of Water Resources

For the first time since 2013, a little more than 30 percent of California is no longer in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

While 18 percent of the state is drought-free, another 14 percent has been labeled as “abnormally dry,” which is the preliminary stage before a drought.

The state still has 18 percent of its land area in an exceptional drought, but this is far better than a year ago, when 44 percent met this description for the most intense level of drought.

Upcoming storms also have snow surveyors from the California Department of Water Resources optimistic, although snow levels at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada are currently 53 percent of the seasonal average.

“While that seems perhaps a little gloomy, keep in mind that we had pretty much bare ground here about a week ago,” Frank Gehrke of the California Department of Water Resources told the L.A. Times.

Statewide, the snowpack levels are at 70 percent of average, but the predicted wet weather is expected to boost measurements to a more favorable number.

Around 30 percent of the state’s water comes from the melted snow, which helps fill reservoirs, rivers and streams.

The region has already had the wettest October in 30 years and precipitation in December was above average. Just last weekend, the northern Sierra Nevada received 20 inches of snow and another 4 inches are expected early next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Even though these are all good signs, a wet spring could prove to be the real turning point in the six-year drought.

“Generally speaking, to get out of the drought California would need to establish a trend of above-average snow-water content, above-average storage in reservoirs and above-average precipitation,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources. “We’re on a great trend. We’d like to see it all year.”

Certain reservoirs are already closer to normal levels, with Lake Shasta at 118 percent of historical average and Lake Oroville at 91 percent of its historical average.

Southern California has not been so lucky. The weather there has been warmer and drier. What little snow the region has received has melted quickly, making it harder to capture.

Here is a video from The Mercury News of how drought conditions have slowly improved.

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