Of­fi­cials: More than 40 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia now out of drought

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - WEATHER - By Ellen Knick­meyer

>> More than 40 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia is out of drought, fed­eral drought-watch­ers said Thurs­day at the tail end of pow­er­ful storms that sent thou­sands of peo­ple flee­ing from flood­ing rivers in the north, un­leashed bur­bling wa­ter­falls in south­ern deserts, and dou­bled the vi­tal snow­pack in the Sierra Ne­vada in lit­tle more than a week.

Declar­ing Cal­i­for­nia as a whole to be past its of­fi­cial three-year drought emer­gency will be up to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will prob­a­bly wait un­til the end of the win­ter rain and snow sea­son to make that de­ci­sion.

But for peo­ple in north­ern ci­ties such as Sacra­mento, where state work­ers opened flood gates to ease pres­sure on lev­ees for the first time in a dozen years, re­leas­ing a two-milewide tor­rent of ex­cess wa­ter from the surg­ing Sacra­mento River, the call on declar­ing the dry spell over in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia looked much clearer.

“It’s hard to say we have a drought here right now,” said Jay Lund, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Wa­ter­shed Sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis.

Lund spoke as he re­turned from tak­ing stu­dents to see the wrenche­do­pen, cen­tury-old flood gates in Sacra­mento, which got its heav­i­est rain in 20 years this week.

The weekly drought re­port by fed­eral and aca­demic wa­ter ex­perts showed 42 per­cent of the state had emerged from drought. This time last year, only 3 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia was out of drought.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which is also re­ceiv­ing wel­come rain from the storms, re­mains in drought but ex­pe­ri­enced a dra­matic re­duc­tion in sever­ity.

Just 2 per­cent of the en­tire state, a swath be­tween Los An­ge­les and Santa Bar­bara, re­mains in the sharpest cat­e­gory of drought that in­cludes dry­ing wells, reser­voirs and streams and wide­spread crop losses. Fortythree per­cent of the state was in that direst cat­e­gory this time a year ago.

The Cachuma reser­voir near still-arid Santa Bar­bara was at just 8 per­cent of ca­pac­ity, even as au­thor­i­ties at North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Shasta Dam opened spill­ways for the first time in six years to make room for more wa­ter to come.

Like many peo­ple in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, win­ery tast­ing-room su­per­vi­sor Nate Hayes went out to mar­vel when this week’s heavy rains started and en­joyed tak­ing his ca­noe down the flooded streets of his town of Rohn­ert Park.

By Thurs­day, Hayes and oth­ers were tired of the rock­slides and mud­slides com­pli­cat­ing com­mutes and the round-the-clock down­pours keep­ing ev­ery­one inside.

“We’re all re­ally ex­cited for the rain,” Hayes said. “But at the same time we kind of want it to be over.”

Fore­cast­ers said the heav­i­est of storms fu­eled by an “at­mo­spheric river” weather phe­nom­e­non had passed af­ter de­liv­er­ing the big­gest down­pours in a decade.

“Ev­ery­thing is on the way down,” said Steve An­der­son, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist at the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice of­fice in Mon­terey.

A rare Sierra bliz­zard at the start of the week brought the moun­tains their heav­i­est snow­fall in six years. Runoff from the moun­tains pro­vides Cal­i­for­ni­ans with much of their year-round wa­ter sup­ply.

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

A rainbow is seen over a flooded land­scape in Hol­lis­ter, Cal­i­for­nia. More than 40 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia has emerged from a pun­ish­ing drought that covered the whole state a year ago, fed­eral drought-watch­ers said Thurs­day.

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