Drought conditions are likely to "persist or intensify" during what forecasters expect to be a warm winter in California, where water scarcity led to critically low reservoir levels and calls to conserve during the state's third consecutive dry year.
The dire winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comes after a summer of punishing heat and disappointing 2013 rain season that was part of California's driest year on record.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor update has all of California in some type of drought category, just as the government-issued report has shown for the last three months. More than 58 percent of the state is considered in "exceptional drought," the most severe category assigned in the weekly report.
Some regions might see slight improvement this winter, but Californians hoping for significant and widespread relief, especially in the parched Central Valley region, are unlikely to find it during the coming months. California historically sees most of its rain for the year from November through February and early spring months.
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"Complete drought recovery in California this winter is highly unlikely," said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While we're predicting at least a 2 in 3 chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow."
Record drought will likely "persist or intensify in large parts of the state," according to a NOAA outlook released Thursday. The precipitation outlook points to above-average rainfall across the southern half of the state and improved drought conditions for the northwest region, according to NOAA.
But any chance of significant improvement depends largely on El Nino -- the Tropical Pacific weather phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino patterns draw moisture into California, but a weak El Nino would probably not generate enough rainfall to affect drought levels.
Forecasters continue to assess whether El Nino conditions will develop this winter, according to NOAA. The latest estimate places the chance of El Nino at 67 percent.
The warm winter forecast follows a summer of record heat and late-season heat wave that exacerbated drought conditions and sped evapotranspiration -- the transfer of water from soil and other surfaces to the atmosphere by evaporation and by transpiration from plants.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, as vanishing snowpack and rainfall has led to farmers fallowing fields and mandatory water restrictions. The next month, the Legislature approved fast-tracked legislation to address the immediate effects of the three-year drought on communities while accelerating bond funding for public works projects that will better prepare agencies for future droughts.
Last month, state water officials released plans for spending almost a third of the $687 million emergency drought relief package. More than $200 million in expedited bond funding would benefit 110 projects throughout the state.