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Summer Drought in the West

The percentage of the West in drought has been on a long-term increase since the beginning of the 20th century. The frequency of droughts also strains water supplies and increases the risk for wildfires. While the drought has eased for much the West in the last 12 months, it has not been eliminated. 

Most of Central California remains in exceptional drought, practically unchanged from last year. And even though increased precipitation from this year’s El Niño has helped in the Sierra, the snowpack is only slightly above normal. Meanwhile, Southern California has missed out on beneficial precipitation — Los Angeles and San Diego each had about two-thirds of their normal rain since December 1. 

Only two Western states, Washington and Oregon, had above average precipitation during the winter. The remaining western states had normal, or even slightly below normal precipitation. This serves as a reminder that El Niño is not a cure-all for western drought.