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Drought Improves In California, Pacific Northwest

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

Freshly plowed Interstate-80, within the Tahoe National Forest in California, after a snow storm in December 2015.

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

The U.S. Drought Monitor released December 17 shows that recent storms have brought improvement in drought conditions in California and other parts of the western U.S.
Although the precipitation is not building up snowpack as much as expected for this time of year.
"Another stormy week was experienced across most of the region, leaving only the southeastern California desert and part of the San Joaquin Valley devoid of significant precipitation,"according to the weekly report. "The heaviest precipitation - more than one foot - affected part of the Washington Cascades, interior northwestern Washington, northwestern Oregon, southwestern Oregon, and northwestern California."
The heavy rain "exceeded 3 inches in other areas from the Cascades to the Pacific Coast, most of Humboldt and Mendocino Counties in California, the higher elevations in west-central Idaho, and parts of northeastern Idaho and adjacent Montana."
The report says "dryness and drought improved once again across large parts of the region."
"Most of Washington, the western half of Oregon, and northwestern California all improved by 1 classification, as did parts of Idaho and a small section of northwestern Montana where precipitation has been heavier than in nearby areas," according to the report.
The U.S. Drought Monitor intensity levels are Abnormally Dry, Moderate, Severe, Extreme and Exceptional Drought.
California remains 97 percent in moderate drought, but severe drought dropped from 92 percent to 90 percent this week. Slightly more than 69 percent of California is in extreme drought with nearly 45 percent in exceptional drought.
The most improvement was in the Pacific Northwest. The level of severe and extreme drought was reduced in Oregon. And, in Washington, extreme drought was reduced to zero percent from 33 percent last week. 
The reductions in the percentage of drought are depicted as white on the western U.S. map graphic. 
"Temperatures averaged a few degrees above normal, so the precipitation did not build up snowpack as much as would be expected this time of year," the report noted. "Snowpack water content is generally above normal in central and eastern Oregon, northern Washington, and western Idaho, but remains considerably below normal along the Cascades, in northern Idaho, and across adjacent northwestern Montana."

Looking ahead, the drought report says stormy weather should continue December 17-21, across the Pacific Northwest, northern California, most of Idaho, and adjacent parts of surrounding states.

"Precipitation totals in most of the area should be moderate, ranging from about an inch to a few inches, but areas from the Cascades to the West Coast will likely get soaked again," the report noted. "More than a foot could fall on parts of coastal Oregon."  


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The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released December 17 forecasts that "drought removal is likely" for part of northwest and southeast California and western Oregon. But "drought remains but improves" in much of California, Nevada and Oregon, while "drought persists" in central and eastern Washington.


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