California Still Waiting for Signs of Drought Improvement After December Storms

This week's U.S. Drought Monitor update does not take into account all of the rainfall from back-to-back storms that swept across the state

Nearly all of California remains in moderate or worse drought, according to a weekly report that does not take into account all of this week's rainfall after back-to-back storms.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows that 99.72 percent of the state remains in the moderate to exceptional drought category. The Monitor categorizes drought severity in four levels, ranging from moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4).

Fifty-five percent of the state is still considered in the most extreme category of drought, marking only a slight decrease since the start of the state's water year on Oct. 1.

Data for the report was gathered Tuesday so the cutoff for the drought update means not all this week's rain was considered. But it's unlikely the state would see significant relief even with all of this week's steady precipitation included in the report.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska told The Associated Press that California would need to see a consistent pattern of storms to really move the state out of its three-year drought. Besides rain and snow, drought monitors also consider the water levels in reservoirs, rivers and streams, soil moisture, and other factors.

California's reservoirs are at critically low levels -- 39 percent to 60 percent of normal -- and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been lagging. Before the Tuesday storms, the southern Sierra had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.

Springtime runoff from the melting snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

California officials estimate the state would need 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from the historic dry spell. The latest storms lifted downtown Los Angeles to slightly above normal for the water year at 2.25 inches.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. The latest figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians managed to reduce their daily water use by only 6.7 percent in October compared to the same period last year.

As of this autumn, the state had marked its driest three years on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center said.

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