BY REID WILSON – 05/12/17 11:35 AM EDT
Just 5 percent of the United States is experiencing drought conditions, the lowest level of drought here since government scientific agencies began updating the U.S. Drought Monitor on a weekly basis in 2000.
Record rain and snowfall over the winter on the West Coast and heavy spring rains in the Midwest have alleviated some of the worst and longest-lasting drought conditions ever recorded.
That parching, years-long drought came after another rainy period, in 2010, when just 8 percent of the U.S. experienced drought conditions. The boom-and-bust cycle is likely caused by climate change that creates more extreme weather patterns, scientists say.
At its driest point, in September 2012, 20 percent of the nation experienced what climatologists deemed “extreme” drought.
Today, small parts of Southern Georgia and Central Florida are still experiencing extreme drought. The drought has amplified several large wildfires in Georgia and Florida, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Parts of southern Arizona are in the midst of a long-term severe drought, while scattered areas of Texas, Colorado, the Dakotas and the greater Washington, D.C., region are dealing with more moderate water shortages.
No state has experienced the highs and lows more than California. As recently as September, the entire state was experiencing at least some drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and 43 percent of the state experienced extreme drought.
Today, after a rainy winter fueled by a so-called Pineapple Express weather system, more than three-quarters of the state is drought-free. Only the Los Angeles area and some inland counties near the U.S.-Mexico border are overly parched.
“California’s drought was alleviated by atmospheric rivers that brought heavy rains earlier this year,” Matthew Rodell, a NASA hydrologist, said in a statement. “Combine that with recent precipitation across much of the northwestern and central parts of the nation, and the result is a much wetter-than-normal map.”
Now, California faces the opposite problem. Heavy rain and snowfall have damaged systems meant to capture water, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The federal government has already said it will send California $274 million to repair the Oroville Dam, where damage to a spillway forced the evacuation of almost 200,000 people in February. Water officials are worried that heavy rains could damage other dams in Northern California, too.