Super-Soaking Storms Cut Severe Drought to 4 Percent of California | NBC 7 San Diego

Super-Soaking Storms Cut Severe Drought to 4 Percent of California

At this time last year, 82 percent of California was in severe drought

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    NEWSLETTERS

    More than 80 percent of California is no longer in drought after a series of winter storms, including last week's hourslong soaker in Southern California.

    About 17 percent of the state remains in drought, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report, the first since last Friday's powerful storm. That's a dramatic turnaround from one year ago when 94 percent of the state was in drought during an historic five-year dry spell.

    This week's report even showed improvement for parts of Southern California that have been struggling to escape severe drought.

    "Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, which have been the epicenter of drought in California in recent weeks, received much-needed rainfall," according to the Drought Monitor report.

    More than 8 inches of rain was reported at two stations near Santa Barbara, one of several Southern California communities that were hammered Friday by one of the state's strongest storms in years. This week's report shows only 4 percent of the state in severe drought, affecting areas in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and extreme southeastern California.

    Last week, 7 percent of California was in severe drought. 

    At this time last year, 82 percent of California was in severe drought. The Monitor features four drought categories -- moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. No part of the state is in extreme drought for the first time since August 2013. 

    "Generally a one-category improvement to drought conditions was made from central California to the Los Angeles basin," according to the Monitor report.

    Santa Barbara County's Cachuma Lake serves as a bellwether for just how dramatic the turnaround has been over the last year. The reservoir rose 24 feet in just one day, bringing the lake to 42 percent of capacity.

    Early this month, Cachuma Lake, which has not reached 50 percent capacity since 2014, was at 15 percent of capacity.

    The storms, produced by atmospheric rivers that pull streams of moisture up from the tropics, have boosted the state's critical Sierra snowpack and reservoir levels. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is 186 of average, a good sign for spring when that snow melts and runs into the state's water reservoirs ahead of the dry summer months.

    In a dramatic turnaround for California from last winter, when reservoir levels were significantly lower and the site of the Sierra snowpack survey was a dry patch of grass, the storms have produced flooding in Nothern California. Some residents returned home Wednesday in San Jose after being evacuated when a bloated creek carrying engine fuel and sewage water flooded thousands of homes.

    With water levels from Coyote Creek receding late Wednesday, officials said some of the 14,000 evacuated residents would be allowed to return home, although an evacuation order remained for parts of the city. Authorities warned residents to be careful about hygiene and handling food that may have come into contact with flood water.

    Flood warnings were in place until Saturday because waterways were overtaxed, and another storm was forecast Sunday.

    California Department of Water Resources

    Authorities also reopened two lanes of U.S. 101 south of San Francisco after it was closed because of flooding. The California Highway Patrol closed all lanes in both directions at 4:40 a.m. Wednesday when water spilled into a low point on the freeway.

    There is no estimate when the key commuter artery will fully reopen.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.