Nearly Half of California Gripped by New Drought

(CN) – One year after record rainfall quenched California’s persistent thirst and led its lawmakers to declare a devastating five-year drought over, water woes may have already returned to the Golden State.

The state’s monthly snow survey taken Thursday showed a skimpy snowpack throughout the state, while a federal report says about half of the state is suffering from a moderate drought and some regions are already experiencing severe drought.

“Today’s measurements indicate an anemic snowpack to date,” said Frank Gehrke, who conducted Thursday’s survey on behalf of the California Department of Water Resources.

Despite an uptick of precipitation in January, most of it fell as rain in the Sierra rather than snow. A strong snowpack that melts incrementally over the spring and even into the summer is critical in replenishing the many reservoirs that supply California’s water during the dry summers.

The statewide snowpack, gauged by a network of about 100 measurement stations throughout the state, is at 27 percent of normal. At Phillips, just southwest of Lake Tahoe near Echo Summit, the snowpack measured a meager 2.6 inches – just 14 percent of historic averages for early February at the alpine location.

Historically, December, January and February are the wettest months for the state, so the possibility of a couple of drought-busting storms marching through the thirsty region remains.

“There is still the possibility of a wet February and March,” Gehrke said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s report showed a significant jump in the amount of the state considered under drought. At the beginning of January, just 12 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions. That figure now stands at 44 percent.

Even worse news is that 75 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions.

The area around Santa Barbara, which experienced the largest wildfire in state history followed by devastating mudslides which killed at least 21 people has also been hardest hit by drought.

California is only one year removed from one of the worst droughts in state history, with five consecutive years of below-average precipitation coupled with warm winter temperatures that weakened snowpack totals.

At the worst of the drought, Governor Jerry Brown called for cities and towns to cut their water use by 25 percent. Conservation returned to the lips of state water officials on Thursday.

“California experiences the most variable weather in the nation,” said Department of Water Resources director Karla Nemeth. “It’s vital that water conservation efforts remain consistent regardless of the year’s precipitation.”

The snowpack provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs.

Despite the specter of drought, most of the state’s reservoirs are at 100 percent or more of average, thanks in large part to the enormous amount of rainfall last winter.

Forecasts call for clear skies in the immediate future, with a possibility of storms mid-month.

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