California drought levels recede in the face of winter storms

About half of the state has been lifted out of drought conditions by a series of storms that have drenched the region.

A person uses an umbrella to avoid the rain in California
Rain collects on a windowpane in Oakland, California, on February 27, as storm systems continue to move across the state [Godofredo A Vásquez/AP Photo]

California has seen drought levels recede after a series of winter storms pummeled the western United States with snow and rainfall, a boon to a state where extreme drought and water access have been a persistent concern.

As of Thursday, the US Drought Monitor found that about 49 percent of California remained under a moderate or severe drought, but the rest of the state was free of drought or simply “abnormally dry”.

Three months ago, nearly the entire state was experiencing drought conditions, including some areas under “extreme” or “exceptional” levels.

“The Pacific weather systems of this week and last week added to copious precipitation that has been received from atmospheric rivers since December 2022, especially over California and states to the east,” the Drought Monitor said.

The portion of the state under “extreme to exceptional” drought has also dropped from about 40 percent three months ago to zero.

“Most California reservoirs have refilled with water levels near or above average, but groundwater levels remain low and may take months to recover,” the Drought Monitor said.

While the rains have brought a welcome boost to the state’s water supply, they have not nullified the long-term challenges that California faces as a result of climate change.

However, in the short term, the tens of trillions of gallons that have drenched California will help address water shortages forecast for the state.

In December, the state’s Department of Water Resources announced that municipalities would receive a fraction of their requested water allocations for 2023, as supplies were stretched thin by drought. But in the wake of the storms, the department increased allocations from 5 percent to 30, boosting the water supplies available to many residents.

A series of “atmospheric rivers” — long, narrow bands of intense moisture — lashed the state from late December through mid-January, and were further supplemented by another string of powerful winter storms in February.

If the rain has helped ease California’s withering drought, it has also brought flooding and disruption to large swaths of the state, resulting in at least 20 deaths.

The extreme swings between drought and heavy rain can also cause problems for wildlife, which has little time to adapt.

“These extremes really take a toll on both the landscape, the wildlife and us,” Beth Pratt, California regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, told the news outlet Reuters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies