California Today: Is the Drought Over?
A flooded vineyard in Forestville, in Sonoma County, where the Russian River breached its banks. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – And on Thursday, it rained. Again.
The arrival of another winter rain here, a wet end to a week that began with heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada, has begged a welcome question: Is the drought that punished California for six years over?
Snowfall created sketchy conditions on Interstate 80 near Truckee in the Tahoe region on Wednesday. Ski resorts have reported 12 feet of snow. Credit Bob Strong/Reuters
No question California has turned a corner. There was more rain in Los Angeles in December than since the drought began; for better and worse. The rain this week shut down Laurel Canyon Boulevard after the waterlogged porch of a house collapsed into the roadway, and flash flood warnings were issued in Los Angeles as storms swept back and forth across the area on Thursday evening.
In Northern California, the storms produced extensive flooding in Sonoma County and around Sacramento – among the hardest-hit parts of the state. Ski resorts reported that 12 feet of snow fell in Tahoe. Mudslides closed Interstate 80 as the storm passed through Sierra Nevada. At least five people have died, officials said.
The Merced River, flowing through Yosemite National Park, was engorged by heavy rainfall over the weekend. Credit Silvia Flores/The Fresno Bee, via Associated Press
Reservoirs that were parched last year are close to capacity. The snowpack — which keeps the water flowing into the early summer as the snow melts — is 161 percent of normal. The United States Drought Monitor for this week reported that 42 percent of the state was out of drought conditions, compared with 3 percent last year.
“In terms of surface water, most of California is no longer in drought,” wrote Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California in Davis.
The Los Angeles River flowed through the city’s Atwater Village neighborhood on Thursday. Credit Konrad Fiedler/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Still, winter is not even half over. Many years have started off wet and gone completely dry. Climate change has produced higher temperatures, which could melt away the snowpack before summer. And parts of the state remain dry.
But after six years of mandatory conservation orders, there seems reason for celebration. “This series of storms has done more than make a dent in the drought, which is a huge relief,” said Felicia Marcus, the head of the State Water Resources Control Board. “But it’s a little early to have a drought’s over party.”