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California drought weakens, forecasters have 'cautious optimism' for future

California's drought condition improves after series of December storms

For the first time in five months, a majority of California is no longer considered to be in an exceptional drought, the most severe level possible under federal guidelines, the U.S. Drought Monitor announced Thursday.

About 32% of California, however – most of it in the Central Valley – remains under the exceptional drought category. Last week the total was at more than 55%.

“The wet weather finally allowed ample runoff (while producing stream and river flooding) that raised major reservoir levels…in most of northern and central California,” the report said.

“’Cautious optimism, but still a long way to go’ would be the very short summary for this week’s California drought picture,” the report said.

The good news is tempered by the fact that the entire state remains in some degree of drought and more than three-quarters of it, about 78%, is in “extreme” drought, the second-highest category available, the report said.

In addition, the state’s major reservoir capacities are still below normal.

California must receive three seasons of above-average rainfall to get back to a “manageable situation,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

 “We need 11 trillion just to get back to our normal, dry conditions,” he told The Times on Tuesday.

But with the rainy winter season just beginning, the storms have given California a “foothold for drought recovery” and left open the chance to gradually chip away at three years worth of drought, the report stated.

The third storm of the week is predicted to settle over Southern California on Friday. 

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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