Extreme drought in Northern California just got 10% better

On Assignment: Focusing on the effects of California’s persistent drought

Dry ruts in a island reveal where the water level used to be at Lake Shasta due to serious drought conditions. Lake Shasta is at 31% of capacity due to the ongoing drought and is likely to get worse.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In rare good news on the California drought, extremely dry conditions in northern parts of the state improved by 10% after a series of strong storms.

This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor reports extreme conditions throughout the state dropped from 77% last week to 67%. The positive change occurred mostly in northwestern California and the Santa Cruz Mountains between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. The northern half of the Santa Lucia Range, which is along the Central Coast, also saw drought conditions improve.

Meanwhile, exceptional drought in California -- the most severe classification -- remained unchanged at nearly 40%.

A series of strong Pacific storms brought much-needed rainfall to Northern California, according to David Simeral, a research scientist with the Western Regional Climate Center.


Portions of Northern California were battered by widespread heavy downpours last weekend, bringing the “first significant precipitation” since December, he said.

MORE: Chronicling California’s drought

The storms were subtropical, so most of the moisture was rain and had little effect on snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The storm system dumped 3 to 15 inches of rain across the Northern California region. Three to 10 inches fell in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Runoff from the storm, however, added 500,000 acre-feet of water to California’s four major reservoirs – Folsom, Oroville, Shasta and Trinty, he said.

But even with all the rain, some reservoir storage is still low, Simeral said.

The last week was also unseasonably warm for the entire western U.S. Temperatures were 3 to 15 degrees above normal in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

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