Los Angeles

Worst of Drought Narrows to Small Region Northwest of LA

At this time last year, 42 percent of California was under the most severe category of drought

What a difference one of California's wettest winters in years makes.

Almost all of California is out of the most severe drought category with the exception of one small swath northwest of Los Angeles. Only 2 percent of the state is under "exceptional drought," according to the weekly Drought Monitor report released Thursday. 

At this time last year, 42 percent of California was under exceptional drought. Just three months ago, 21 percent of the state fell into the exceptional category.

The worst drought region continues to be an area that extends from northwestern Los Angeles County and southernmost Kern County westward across much of Ventura County to the south coast of Santa Barbara County. That part of the state has failed to see the benefits of a series of storms that ushered in the most precipitation California has seen in years.

Severe drought conditions dropped from 49 percent of the state last week to 44 percent in the most recent report. Forty-two percent of California was under severe drought three months ago.

The rain and snow have knocked out drought conditions in Northern California. More than 43 percent of the state is out of the drought. More than 97 percent of California was in some category of drought at this time last year, according to the Monitor.

Steady snowfall doubled the vital snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in little more than a week. The snow melts in spring and runs off into the state's largest reservoirs.

The Monitor's latest report, compiled by water experts who use soil moisture, stream levels and snowpack to make their estimates, includes data through Tuesday Jan. 17.

More improvement is possible in next week's report, which will includes the effects of three storms expected to move through California. The first storm arrived Wednesday and into Thursday, which could mean the start of five consecutive days of rain and dangerous flood conditions.

The storms sent thousands of people fleeing last week from flooding rivers in the north and unleashed burbling waterfalls in southern deserts. 

Declaring California as a whole to be past its official three-year drought emergency will be up to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will probably wait until the end of the winter rain and snow season to make that decision.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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