Water & Drought

October rains lift 12 percent of California out of drought status – highest since March 2013

October’s rains put a modest dent in California’s drought, leaving the state in its best shape in more than three years, according to data released Thursday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly report showed that 12 percent of California, all in the northernmost counties, is now considered drought-free. That’s the highest percentage since March 2013.

A year ago, all four counties in the Sacramento region were in “exceptional drought,” the worst classification. Most of Sacramento and Yolo counties remain in “severe drought” status. But a large swath of Placer County is in the least severe category of “abnormally dry,” while much of El Dorado County is in “moderate drought.”

The monitor made it clear that much of California remains gripped by a drought that’s entering its sixth year. About 43 percent of the state is in either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

The Sacramento region experienced its fourth wettest October on record, according to the National Weather Service. But the month was drier in other parts of the state, and a rainy October doesn’t mean winter will prove wetter than usual. The bulk of the season’s rains fall between December and February.

“We’ve still got a long way to go for the rest of the state,” said Jay Lund, a water policy expert at UC Davis.

The monitor – produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska – showed five counties have climbed out of the drought. Those include Shasta and Trinity, home to two of the most important reservoirs in California: Shasta and Trinity lakes.

Separate figures compiled by the state Department of Water Resources show the Trinity and Shasta reservoirs are twice as full as they were a year ago. Shasta’s storage is slightly above historical average for early November, while Trinity is still well below average.

A dry spell could plunge the northern counties back into drought status. And reservoirs in the southern half of the state remain comparatively dry.

“We’re still on our knees,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

“To get out of a serious drought ... it will take many years of above normal (precipitation),” he added.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler