When did the California drought start?

After weeks of torrential rains, California’s persistent drought is starting to ease.

“California has been in dry conditions for much of the last 10 years, with only two wet years,” Jeff Mount, a senior fellow at the California Water Policy Center’s Public Policy Institute, previously said. news week.

“The past three years have been the driest three-year period on record. [dating back to 1895.] That beats the driest three-year period on record from 2013 to 2015. And these two three-year periods have been the hottest on record.”

drought in california
Photo of an American flag fluttering next to a dry, unplanted field in Lodi, California. The southwestern US has been hit by a mega-drought for the past 23 years, the likes of which have not been seen in centuries.
Justin Sullivan/Getty

For the past 23 years, the southwestern states of the US have been affected by a longstanding mega-drought. Rick Relyea, director of the Darrin Freshwater Institute at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, previously said news week that the United States had not seen such a severe drought in the last 1,200 years.

The extreme conditions, combined with the increase in population and the demand for agriculture, have caused water shortages in many regions. Just this month, the city of Scottsdale in Arizona was forced to cut off its water supply to the Rio Verde foothills due to concerns that its own residents were not getting enough.

However, since December 26, California has seen record rainfall. More than 32 trillion gallons of rain fell on the state in just three weeks, and snowpack in the Sierra mountains is 250 percent of what it normally would be for this time of year. So how has all this wet weather affected the state’s prolonged drought?

California Drought Monitor

The US Drought Monitor is a map that is updated weekly to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. Drought intensity is measured using five categories, from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought”.

Just three months ago, the monitoring system classified 41 percent of the state as having “extreme drought,” the second most intense category, and 17 percent experienced the most intense “exceptional drought.”

Today, for the first time since 2020, neither of these categories is present in California, and just 43 percent of the state is considered to be in “severe” drought, up from 92 percent in October.

Drought state in California

Despite improvements in California’s overall drought status, 92 percent of the state is still considered to be experiencing at least a “moderate” drought.

Graham Fogg, professor emeritus of hydrogeology at the University of California, Davis, has said news week that while the recent rains have been beneficial, they are not enough to fully offset the drought. “It’s likely that it will take California at least a couple more years than average to wet years to fully come out of the drought,” he said.

California Drought Map January 2023
California Drought Map October 2022

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At the start of this water year, which runs from October 2022 to September 2023, the state’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, was only one-third full. It is now at 55 percent of its full capacity, but still has a ways to go.

Donald Bader, Shasta’s area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water resources in the region, previously said news week that the office could not say with confidence whether enough rain had fallen to restore water levels in the state’s reservoirs through February, after another month of potentially wet weather.

“Right now, we really expect the rains to continue because we’ve seen it too many times where they just go off,” he said.

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