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By Phil Helsel
California is officially free of drought after more than seven years, drought monitors said Thursday.
The Golden State has experienced some form of drought for 376 consecutive weeks, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, tweeted. It’s the first time the state has been free of drought since Dec. 20, 2011.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted that weather in 2017 helped matters, but moderate drought persisted. Rainfall this winter further alleviated the drought, although 7 percent of the state remains “abnormally dry.”
“The storms this year have really helped snowpacks, the reservoirs,” said Jessica Blunden, a climatologist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Colder temperatures also helped prevent snow from melting off, she said.
This winter — the meteorological winter starts on Dec. 1 and ends at the end of February — has been the wettest in the United States as a whole since records started being kept in 1895, with an average across the nation of 9.01 inches, which is 2.22 inches above the nationwide average, Blunden said.
That precipitation has not just benefited California. “It’s been a great winter for the West,” she said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor website, which is an effort by several agencies including NOAA and the national drought mitigation center, says that well-above precipitation in the West helped build snow pack and fill reservoirs, and that normal conditions have returned to the Salton Sea in the southeastern part of the state.
The Los Angeles area experienced cool winter temperatures that brought the fifth-longest streak of 41 consecutive days with a high temperature below 70 degrees since records began in 1877. Rare snowfall was reported in parts of the Los Angeles area in February.
Nearly 18 inches — 17.99 — of rain fell in downtown Los Angeles from Oct. 1 through Thursday, which is over 5 inches above normal, said Kristen Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
A “super bloom” of poppies has been reported in Lake Elsinore southeast of Los Angeles, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park northeast of San Diego reported “great displays of wildflowers” this week that could last into April because of cool weather and moisture.
The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office tweeted Wednesday that a wet February and March has pushed water year numbers “well above average” with parts of the northern Sierras at 136 percent of normal, Sacramento at 126 percent of normal and Redding at 120 percent.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency drought declaration in 2014 and in 2015 ordered urban areas to reduce water use by 25 percent. A campaign also urged drivers to “go dirty for the drought” and to not wash their vehicles.
Brown lifted the drought emergency in most of California in 2017, warning “the next drought could be around the corner.” He added that “conservation must remain a way of life.”
Some parts of Southern California remain “abnormally dry due to very dry previous years,” the U.S. Drought Monitor said on its website. Reservoirs in San Diego County are at 65 percent capacity, and Big Bear Lake was down 18 feet in early March, but levels are expected to rise, it said in weekly drought summary.
The areas listed as abnormally dry were in the southern part of the state, including parts of Orange, Riverside, San Diego and Imperial counties, as well as a small portion in the northern part of the state in Siskiyou County along the Oregon border, according to the drought monitor.
In December, 75 percent of California was in “moderate drought,” up from 47 percent in March, according to the monitor.
Conditions can change that quickly, and they can change back to dry conditions as well, Blunden said.
“This happened last year: It was a wet winter, there were beautiful blooms in the spring and then it dried out really fast,” Blunden said, adding, “Don’t be complacent, because it can change pretty quickly.”
And about those “Go Dirty for the Drought” decals?
“Keep it handy, because you never know,” she said.