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Wet winter greatly reduces drought conditions in California

February 8, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2019, file photo, John King, right, of the Department of Water Resources, checks the snowpack depth during the second manual snow survey of the season at the Phillips station near Echo Summit, Calif. In just a matter of weeks, a very wet winter has greatly reduced drought conditions in California as a series of storms coated mountains with heavy blankets of snow and unleashed drenching rains. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 that about a third of the state has no significant dryness and only about 10 percent of the state falls into categories of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a matter of weeks, a very wet winter has greatly reduced drought conditions that have plagued California.

A series of storms has coated mountains with blankets of snow and unleashed drenching rains that have even greened up landscapes recently blackened by wildfires.

Here are things to know about the suddenly soggy state:

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DWINDLING DROUGHT

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that a large portion of the state including the Sierra Nevada, much of the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area is free of any significant dryness.

Heavy rain has also ended most of the moderate drought that stretched from the Central Coast to the southern tier of the state, leaving a lesser condition designated as abnormally dry, according to the monitor.

California’s southwestern corner, including all of San Diego County and portions of surrounding counties, remain in moderate drought even though it has received more than the usual amount of rain to date. The monitor said several reservoirs are still at their lowest levels in at least a year, and in one case, as long as three years.

A relatively small area of moderate to severe drought persists along the California-Oregon border.

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BY THE NUMBERS

More than 34 percent of the state now has no abnormal dryness or any of the four levels of drought, which are described as moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional.

Slightly more than half the state is considered abnormally dry and just 10.5 percent is either in moderate or extreme drought.

On Jan. 1, less than 8 percent of the state had no level of dryness or drought. Slightly more than 75 percent was in moderate, extreme or exceptional drought and the remainder was in the abnormally dry classification.

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SIERRA SNOWPACK

Just before last weekend’s latest round of stormy weather, the California Department of Water Resources conducted its second Sierra snowpack survey of the season and found it was 100 percent of normal, an important reading because it holds about a third of the state’s water supply.

Even more snow has fallen since, including staggering amounts at locations such as Mammoth Mountain. Eleven feet (3.3 meters) of snow fell on its 11,053-foot (3,369-meter) summit over four days, bringing the season total to more than 32 feet (9.7 meters), the resort said.

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THE EMERALD HILLS OF LA

Rainfall totals this winter have been impressive.

Downtown Los Angeles, for example, has received nearly 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain since the Oct. 1 start of the “water year.” That’s over 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) more than normal.

The result has been an explosion of verdant grasses across the state, including the Los Angeles region where the Mediterranean climate usually expresses itself in shades of khaki and tan.

Swaths of bright green have even sprouted amid vast areas burned black by wildfires.

The storms have caused burn scars to belch mud and rocks that have blocked streets and highways, but so far have not led to a repeat of the kind of disastrous and deadly debris flows that smashed the community of Montecito last winter.

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TOO MUCH?

Even with the high precipitation totals California has avoided major problems because the storms have been spaced far enough apart and have not been overly intense, said Alex Tardy, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego.

“We have been mostly fortunate with these big rain events, the atmospheric rivers, where the impact has been relatively localized,” he said.

Historically, there have been winters with high precipitation totals that did not cause problems, but soils are saturated and many of the big reservoirs are starting to fill up, he said.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Even more snow.

The National Weather Service said two storms are expected to drop snow on Northern California mountains and higher foothills this coming weekend, producing dangerous driving conditions.

Significant snowfall is predicted at elevations down to 2,500 feet (762 meters) and light accumulations as low as 1,000 feet (305 meters).

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