Drought threat erased California map after soaking storms

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What a difference a few storms make.

The recent attack of torrential rains and snowy days wiped the threat of drought off the map of California.

The latest Federal Drought Watch Map, a means of measuring drought primarily used in agriculture, shows that only 3.5% of the state is “unusually dry” with a tiny yellow sheen on the California border. and Oregon. Just a week ago, 85% of the state was yellow.

California has had a slow start to the rainy season with little rain in October and the first three weeks of November. The storm door finally opened on Thanksgiving week and systems have swept the state since then.


“All of a sudden we went from people wondering when it was raining to people wondering when it would stop raining,” said Spencer Tangen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Bay Area. “It’s almost like a switch has been flipped.”

Rain in the San Francisco Bay Area has been continuous since the last week of November with only a few dry days here and there between storms. But some areas were significantly wetter than others, bringing total precipitation above average. Other areas are still lagging behind seasonal norms.

Downtown San Francisco has recorded 3.86 inches since October 1, with total precipitation being 67% of normal. Normally until December 1, the city would expect to see 5.78 inches.

Santa Rosa Airport measured 10.42 inches, or 121% of normal. The average value for this time of year is 8.60. San José recorded 2.32 inches compared to the seasonal average of 3.48 inches, or 67% of normal.

The Drought Monitor is a joint effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A map is released each week with drought conditions across the country, indexing everything from groundwater storage to river level. The numbers that water managers are watching most closely are precipitation totals and reservoir and snowpack levels. This season, all of them look promising for the California water supply.

Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in the state, has a capacity of 72% and 119% of the average for this time of year. At this point in the season, water managers release water to reduce flooding and meet environmental requirements.

State officials won’t take a close look at the snowfall until later in the season, but ski resorts are reporting a good start. Squaw Valley had measured over 100 inches of snowfall last week. The resort didn’t hit the 100-inch mark until January 6 last season.

Of course, this promising start to what state officials call “the year of the water” could change everything if a prolonged drought strikes.

Amy Graff is a digital editor for SFGATE. Email him at agraff@sfgate.com.

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