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California drought report: Thunderstorms bring slight relief to desert

Thunderstorms bring drought relief to, of all places, the desert. 95.4% of Calif. still in 'severe' category

Over the last week, the only spot in California to see improved drought conditions was -- of all places -- Mojave Desert, officials reported.

The area benefited enough from recent showers and thunderstorms for it qualify for a one-category improvement from "extreme" to "severe" drought, according to the latest statewide assessment released Thursday.

"Otherwise, conditions in California remained unchanged on the map," wrote David Simeral, author of the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report.

According to the map, 95.4% of the state now falls under the "severe" drought category — the third-harshest on a five-level scale -- and slight improvement from 97.5% last week.

But don't expect conditions to continue on a slow recovery path as six-day to 10-day outlooks show above-normal temperatures across California.

The drought in the Western U.S. has caused a loss of 63 trillion gallons of groundwater since the beginning of 2013, according to a study published last week in the journal Science. The loss is the equivalent of four inches of water across the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.

Reservoir levels also continue to remain far below average and in some communities, entire wells are running dry.

Tulare County officials had to distribute bottled water last week to nearly 300 homes after their private wells went dry.

The California Department of Social Services has distributed more than 205,000 boxes of food to drought-stricken counties, according to the state weekly drought update. Authorities estimate 80,556 households have picked up about 153,000 boxes of food.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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