The state of California has been declared drought-free for the first time in more than seven years. Generous winter rains have filled the state's reservoirs and the Sierra Nevada snowpack is now 50 percent higher than average. This is the first time since mid-December of 2011 that the entire state has been classified as being free of drought, and the moisture deficit is not severe enough to cause social, environmental or economic hardship. The current picture marks a major improvement from just one year ago, when nearly 70 percent of California was still classified as suffering from moderate to severe drought. And only three years before that, the Sierra snowpack had dwindled to virtually zero.
The skies were grey, snow was falling and it was bitterly cold when state snow survey chief Frank Gehrke made his monthly march out to a deep pillow of snow in the Sierra Nevada town of Phillips on Thursday morning. He plodded across the white mounds, plunged his metallic pole into the powder beneath him, pulled it out and made his proclamation: 94 inches deep. The 2016-17 winter created one of the largest snowpacks in California's recorded history and it's loaded with enough water to keep reservoirs and rivers swollen for months to come. "For recreation, there's a lot of pent up demand for spring touring," Gehrke told reporters and viewers watching on a social media livestream. "Clearly this is going to be a good year for it.