by TERRY CASTLEMAN at latimes.com
Less than a year after facing historic water shortages, California this week was declared drought-free thanks to a year of epic rains, with an El Niño forecast that could keep wet conditions going into 2024.
The U.S. Drought monitor’s latest data show the vast majority of California reporting no drought as of Oct. 17, though pockets in the northernmost and southeastern parts of the state are still considered abnormally dry.
“For the most part, California had been drought-free” for weeks, but “a little smidgen” remained, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.
A smidgen, indeed: On Oct. 10, only 0.7% of the state was in drought. And that area — a slim portion of Del Norte County in the upper left-hand corner of the state — had been getting consistently less dry since mid-September.
Just a year ago, 99.8% of California was in some level of drought, and 43% of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought, the two most serious levels.
California hasn’t been completely drought-free since two fleeting periods in 2019 and 2020, which were preceded and followed by prolonged dry spells.
The state was drought-free from March to September in 2019, then experienced moderate drought in 1% to 2% of the state before being officially free of drought from November 2019 to February 2020, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data.
Before those instances, “it was all the way back to December 2011” when the state was completely drought-free, Fuchs said.