Strong Winter Storms Land Another Knockout Punch to California Drought

At this time last year, 94 percent of California was in drought

Snowpack and reservoir levels continued to increase in California, marking another week of improvement for drought conditions across the state.

Last week, 47 percent of the state was in drought, but that figure plummeted to 24 percent this week, according to the Drought Monitor report issued Thursday. At this time last year, 94 percent of California was in drought.

A small swath of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties continue to be the only part of California under extreme drought -- the monitor's second-most severe category of drought. Santa Barbara County's Cachuma Lake is nowhere close to being full after years of drought, but this winter's storms are slowly raising the water level

"Storms continued to drop heavy precipitation over parts of California, leading to widespread improvements of the multi-year drought in the state, although some pockets have missed out on the precipitation and water restrictions remain due to low reservoir levels," according to the Drought Monitor statement. 

The most significant improvements were made Central and Southern California, and Monterey and eastern Santa Clara counties. San Bernardino and southern Inyo counties also saw relief from five years of drought.

The Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack, which melts in spring and flows into the state's reservoirs to provide water for millions of Californians, remained well above 100 percent. Reservoirs across most areas have been recharged, including Lake Isabella at the base of Sequoia National Forest, where the water level jumped 20 percent.

The encouraging drought update comes ahead of what is expected to be the strongest storm of the season in Southern California.

About 2 to 6 inches of rain are likely from the Southern California coast to the valleys by Saturday night. Showers are expected to begin late Thursday before the full force of the storm is unleashed midday Friday and into Saturday.

Some communities could see a month's worth of rain in one day during what is expected to be the region's most powerful storm of the wet season -- October through April. The system is the product of an atmospheric river, tropical moisture that flows north to the West Coast, ushering in waves of precipitation that can go on for hours.

Last week, water regulators extended what are now largely symbolic conservation measures lingering from the drought. Regulators decided to retain the measures at least until spring as a precaution against the possible return of dry weather -- even as another major storm bears down on the state.

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