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Recent Storms Fail to Ease California's Searing Drought

August 8, 2014

Despite receiving a series of thunderstorms in recent weeks, some of which have dropped rains heavy enough to trigger mudflows in some areas, California remains locked in the grip of a historic drought that shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

The storms' overall effect on the state's drought has been "inconsequential," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in its most recent report on the state of drought across the country. While they reduced irrigation demands for some crops and brought welcome lower temperatures to areas that had seen record-setting heat, the rains didn't provide any lasting drought relief.

That's because most of the heavy showers "fell outside California's key watershed areas in the Colorado River basin and the Sierra Nevada [mountains]," officials with the Drought Monitor noted in their August 5 report. The showers also didn't cover a large enough area to make a dent in the drought, and the heaviest rains never made it to drought-parched soils, thanks to high runoff rates.

Nearly 60 percent of California is experiencing what is known as "exceptional" drought, the harshest level possible on a five-level scale. As the Los Angeles Times notes, the entire state has been in some level of drought since May, "but more of it has since fallen into more severe categories -- 'extreme' and 'exceptional.'"

Another 22 percent of the state was added to the "exceptional" column in late July. Most state reservoirs's water supplies are a year behind where they should be by now, and much of the state's groundwater has been depleted, the Times notes.

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“The bottom line is, there’s a lot of ground to make up,” said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, in an interview with The Times. “Mother Nature can’t put it back in that fast.”

Still, as the U.S. Drought Monitor points out, that hasn't meant heavy rainfall events are unheard of.

Even though heavy rainfall events occurred over the weekend -- like the Aug. 3 storms that flooded places like Mount Baldy in Southern California -- soil conditions were poor in most of the state's rangeland and croplands, unchanged from the previous week.

The dry conditions helped keep wildfire activity high, especially in Northern California where the 30,000-acre Eiler and 40,000-acre Bald fires burned in early August.

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