Wet winter, heavy snow greatly reduces drought conditions in California

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In a matter of weeks, a very wet winter has greatly reduced drought conditions that have plagued California.

A series of storms has coated mountains with blankets of snow and unleashed drenching rains that have even greened up landscapes recently blackened by wildfires. In the Bay Area, snow fell on Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County and Mount Tam in Marin County.  More snow is expected for the mountains this weekend and a winter storm warning, advising travelers not to cross Northern California mountains, was issued for Friday after 4 p.m. 

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Here are things to know about the suddenly soggy state:



The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that a large portion of the state including the Sierra Nevada, much of the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area is free of any significant dryness.

Heavy rain has also ended most of the moderate drought that stretched from the Central Coast to the southern tier of the state, leaving a lesser condition designated as abnormally dry, according to the monitor.

California's southwestern corner, including all of San Diego County and portions of surrounding counties, remain in moderate drought even though it has received more than the usual amount of rain to date. The monitor said several reservoirs are still at their lowest levels in at least a year, and in one case, as long as three years.

A relatively small area of moderate to severe drought persists along the California-Oregon border.



More than 34 percent of the state now has no abnormal dryness or any of the four levels of drought, which are described as moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional.

Slightly more than half the state is considered abnormally dry and just 10.5 percent is either in moderate or extreme drought.

On Jan. 1, less than 8 percent of the state had no level of dryness or drought. Slightly more than 75 percent was in moderate, extreme or exceptional drought and the remainder was in the abnormally dry classification.



Just before last weekend's latest round of stormy weather, the California Department of Water Resources conducted its second Sierra snowpack survey of the season and found it was 100 percent of normal, an important reading because it holds about a third of the state's water supply.

Even more snow has fallen since, including staggering amounts at locations such as Mammoth Mountain. Eleven feet  of snow fell on its 11,053-foot  summit over four days, bringing the season total to more than 32 feet , the resort said.



Even with the high precipitation totals California has avoided major problems because the storms have been spaced far enough apart and have not been overly intense, said Alex Tardy, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego.

"We have been mostly fortunate with these big rain events, the atmospheric rivers, where the impact has been relatively localized," he said.

Historically, there have been winters with high precipitation totals that did not cause problems, but soils are saturated and many of the big reservoirs are starting to fill up, he said.



Even more snow.

The National Weather Service said two storms are expected to drop snow on Northern California mountains and higher foothills this coming weekend, producing dangerous driving conditions.

Significant snowfall is predicted at elevations down to 2,500 feet and light accumulations as low as 1,000 feet .

This story was reported from Los Angeles. KTVU contributed to this report.