Soaking rain and Sierra blizzards have come a long way to repair a 4-year drought in California including in the Central Valley. Through the 24th of this month it is already the wettest January ever say meteorologists with NOAA’s US Drought Monitor.
That includes Fresno,Tulare,Kings and Kern Counties that are no longer in the worst “exceptional drought” designation as of January 24 says the US Drought Monitor’s latest report. A month ago they were in this bone dry drought category (D-4) shaded in dark brown on the December 27 map above. Most of the Central Valley has been in this D-4 designation since 2014.
Instead the areas on the latest January 24 map in orange (D-2) are considered in the improved “severe drought” category while almost 40% of the state is no longer in any drought designation. At the start of the water year in October none of the state was free of drought. The weather agency says the D-4 category “has been wiped from the state.”
This month heavy to excessive precipitation pounded areas in the west through most of California, particularly the Sierra Nevada, coastal locations, and the southwestern interior. Between 8 and 12 inches were common through the Sierra Nevada while 4 to locally 10 inches were dropped on areas farther west and southwest. Adjacent areas to the east of the Sierra Nevada and most of central and south-central California (outside a small area south of the Sierra Nevada) recorded at least an inch. According to the San Joaquin precipitation index (an average across that region), January was the wettest ever observed in 112 years of record, and 4- to 5-year precipitation totals climbed dramatically from approximately the 2 percentile level as of early January to around the 20th percentile through this week. Statewide average snowpack (snow water equivalent) is almost twice normal for late January, and somewhat more than twice normal in the southern Sierra Nevada. Amounts actually exceed those typically recorded April 1.
“Given these dramatically wet indicators, widespread 1-category improvements were again instituted this week, wiping D4 from the state and restricting D3 to part of southwestern California.” says the report.
That does not mean groundwater levels are showing major recover yet says the agency.
“It should be noted, however, that to date groundwater levels have not responded as one might expect, and remain critically low. In most of the central foothills on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, plus a number of other communities and cities across the nearby mountains and valleys, water supply is dependent on groundwater. Thus potable water is still being trucked in to serve residents with dry wells in areas such as Tuolumne County, and the deepest wells may not respond to the recent inundation for many more months.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL.