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Rainy weather washes away drought conditions in LA

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Snow is falling on the mountains, and California’s reservoirs are filling up

Snow-covered mountains
LA County’s drought level was downgraded Thursday after weeks of rain.
Photo by Al Seib/LA Times via Getty Images

A month of rain—and snow—has cleared away drought conditions from nearly all of Los Angeles County, according to report released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

A small swath of northeastern Los Angeles County remains “abnormally dry,” but drought conditions in the rest of the LA region have vanished.

At the beginning of 2019, more than three quarters of California was experiencing “moderate drought” conditions or worse. As of Tuesday, that share had fallen to just under 4 percent.

“Early-to-mid-February precipitation pounded California, ensuring an above-average Sierra Nevada snowpack,” writes meteorologist Brad Rippey in the report.

Even Southern California’s deserts have been getting plenty of precipitation. Rippey points out that on February 14, Palm Springs received nearly 70 percent of its normal annual rainfall in a single day.

Before 2017’s exceptionally wet winter, California had been mired in a years-long drought that left most of the state parched and elected officials scrambling to ensure drinking water wouldn’t run out.

California drought map
Drought levels in California since Thanksgiving
U.S. Drought Monitor

Last year, after below-average winter rainfall, drought conditions began to return. At the start of the current water year (October 1), nearly half of the state was in moderate, severe, or extreme drought.

Weeks of rainy weather have changed that picture dramatically.

Precipitation in the last month has replenished most of California’s largest reservoirs. Nine of the 12 reservoirs tracked by the California Department of Water Resources were filled to above average levels Wednesday, and both Lake Perris (in Riverside County) and the San Luis Reservoir (southeast of San Jose) are approaching capacity.

Snowfall will also bolster the state’s water supply. Snowpack is above the historical median at nearly all of the state’s major mountain peaks. Precipitation is only lagging in the Klamath Mountains, close to the Oregon border, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service,

Los Angeles, seen January 1
Zoom Earth
Los Angeles, February 19
Zoom Earth

The difference is clear even in aerial photographs. Compare the two satellite images above. The one on the left was taken New Year’s Day, while the much greener image on the right is from Tuesday.