Drought Maps Show California's Water Crisis Before and After Major Storms

  • California has seen a remarkable improvement in its drought situation over the past few months as a result of excessive rain and snow.
  • In November 2021, all of California was classified as abnormally dry and 35 percent struggled with extreme drought.
  • By March 2023, more than 44 percent of the state was free from drought.
  • The improvement is attributed to an abundance of rain and snow, with meteorologists predicting further improvement as snowpack melts in April.

Data shared by the U.S. Drought Monitor Map shows a startling difference in California's drought classifications compared to last year and 2021.

California has battled a deluge of storms the past few months that have dumped excessive rain and snow on the Golden State, which has battled drought for years. The most recent analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor Map published on Thursday revealed that more than 44 percent of the state is free from drought.

The map told a much different story three months ago, when 100 percent of California was classified as abnormally dry, with 35 percent of the state battling extreme drought. More than 7 percent of the state was plagued with exceptional drought.

The current map shows a hopeful outlook for summer.

In the past 11 years, California has rarely been free from any drought, according to the map. Brad Rippey, a U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist and a map author, told Newsweek that California has suffered drought in eight of the last 11 years.

Now, for the time being, Rippey said drought is over for most of the state.

Drought-stricken Lake Shasta in California
The Pit River Bridge stretches over drought-stricken Lake Shasta, which is ringed with formerly submerged land, on July 5, 2022, near Redding, California. Drought seems to be ending for the state, with 44 percent of California free from drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. Getty

When comparing the current U.S. Drought Monitor Map to dates in the past, progress is astonishingly obvious. At the end of the wildfire season in November 2021, the entire state suffered from moderate drought, with 80 percent struggling with extreme drought. Nearly 30 percent of the state was categorized as also suffering from exceptional drought, a classification that mostly plagued Central and Southern California.

The following wet season for the 2021-22 winter erased all of the state's exceptional drought and steeply decreased the extreme drought to nearly 13 percent. By the start of the 2022 wildfire season in July, the exceptional drought returned for 12 percent of the state and extreme drought jumped up to nearly 60 percent of the state, again parching mostly Central and Southern California.

Percentages stayed roughly the same by the end of last year's wildfire season in November, but drought-stricken areas had shifted to West-Central California.

Just two months later, an uncommonly wet winter saturated the state and erased all of the exceptional and most of the extreme drought by January. However, the entire state still suffered from some form of drought or was classified as being "abnormally dry."

In January, California received an onslaught of torrential rain. The storms continued, including several atmospheric rivers that dumped even more moisture. With the March 9 map, including data through March 7, more than 26 percent of the state was completely free of drought.

The relief grew with the release of the March 16 map, which included data through March 14. The percentage of land free from drought increased steeply to more than 44 percent.

According to the current map, severe drought still affects roughly 8 percent of the state, mostly classified in the northeastern and southeastern portions. Much of Central California, which battled devastating drought just months earlier, was free from drought.

"An ample amount of water is erasing the drought massively," AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok told Newsweek. "There are still sections in the northern areas of the state and the southeast part in desert areas, but most areas are getting out of drought."

Pastelok anticipates that the drought will continue to improve, specifically the severe drought in the southeastern part of the state and the moderate drought in north and north-central areas like Redding and Sacramento as snowpack begins to melt in April.

California is nearing the end of its wet season but hasn't fully emerged, as another storm system is slated to hit early next week. The most updated version of the U.S. Drought Monitor Map is anticipated to be released on March 23 and will include data through March 21.