The California Drought is Over. Definitively.

From the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Cliff Mass

After over a month of torrential rain and massive mountain snow, the drought is over in California.

Yet with all the liquid bounty, some in the media and elsewhere don’t want to give up on it, as noted in the NY Times headline below.

And the U.S Drought Monitor has severe drought over much of the state.

I believe the evidence for the end of California drought is quite overwhelming. But consider the facts found below and decide for yourself.

Reservoirs and Snowpack

Let us start with the most critical measure of drought…the total water storage in the reservoirs plus the water that will be available from the snowpack (see below).

It is now WAY above normal.  

In fact, the total water available right now is greater than normally available in April after months of additional precipitation.

The previous deficit in California reservoir water storage is now gone.  For example, consider the huge Lake Orville Reservoir in northern CA” during the past month it went from roughly 60% of normal to 106%!  Wow.

Current snowpack, a critical water source for late spring, summer, and fall?

It is now over 200% of normal for all major Sierra regions…and nearly 300% for the south Sierra area.  Good skiing as well.

Soil Moisture and Rivers

The state has experienced flooding and highly saturated conditons from all the rain.   As you might expect, the soil moisture values arecurrently  very, very high (see below from NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System, NIDIS).  Green is above normal.  Dark green indicates the top 1% wettest period on record for the date.

Rivers around California are generally very high, with many running above the 90th percentile (top 10% flows for this period).

And the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which considers current and past precipitation plus temperatures, indicates wet conditions over the state.  No drought.

Making Up For Several Years of Precipitation Deficit

An important aspect of the massive amount of recent precipitation is that it has erased a multi-year deficit in precipitation.  Consider San Francisco, where the observed cumulative precipitation for the past two years is shown by green (and climatological variation indicated by the brown line)

For most of the past two years, San Fran has been behind normal precipitation, but the recent torrent has pushed it above normal!

A similar situation for Los Angeles.

But What About Lake Mead/Lake Powell and Ground Water?

The media has been fixated on Lake Mead/Lake Powell, whose water levels are both well below normal; both are fed by the Colorado River, not the Sierra Nevada reservoirs/snowpack  (see Colorado watershed below).   The water in these lakes supports water needs in southern CA and Arizona and provides electricity from Hoover Dam.

It is true that the water levels in the critical storage lakes/reservoirs (Mead and Powell) are dropping (see a plot for Lake Mead below).

But this decline is not from changes in meteorology/climate, but from increased usage to support a growing population and water-intensive agriculture.  You can see this by looking at the long-term trend in Colorado River Basin snowpack and water flow into Lake Mead (below).

Dropping groundwater levels in California are a similar story, with the largest drops during the past 20 years in agricultural areas of the southern Central Valley (see below).  We are mining too much sub-surface water to be sustainable.

The Bottom Line:   Much of California is a relatively arid, with little long-term trend in precipitation.  There is a reason that that Spanish did not move northward into California for two centuries:  the place was too dry for agriculture. Only a massive reservoir and water transportation system made a heavily populated state possible.

Much of California goes through natural periods of above and below normal precipitation, and we have just gone through such a cycle, moving from a few years of dry condition to a very wet winter.   

The recent meteorological drought is now over.  But California needs better long-term planning and infrastructure to sustainabley support the current and future pooulation and a huge agriculural industry.

 Blaming climate change as the primary cause for current problems and recent “drought” leads to not dealing with the real problems.

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Tom Halla
January 22, 2023 6:25 pm

The greens hate dams nearly as much as they despise people. Dealing with the Delta Smelt must be settled, as releasing what water is stored to support a fish that has become the greens stalking horse to disrupt any reasonable water policy has become ridiculous.
California will never deal with its water problems as long as the current politicians are in power.

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 22, 2023 8:04 pm

What I read not long ago is no one has been able to find a single Delta Smelt for a fair number of years. The eco-loons have been busy beavers looking for another reason to dump a lot of fresh water, unused, into the ocean. Probably because sea level isn’t rising fast enough.

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 23, 2023 12:31 am

The Delta Smelt has not been seen since 2017 and then only two were found. California needs a better poster fish to leverage environmental sentimentalism, which is what they do instead of storing water. The entire Yolo causeway which is the relief valve for valley flooding is flooded and is flowing unimpeded into the San Pablo Bay.

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 23, 2023 8:30 am

Delta smelt is a “Red Herring”. US has an agreement with Mexico since 1944 to release a certain amount of the Colorado river to the sea of Cortez (10%). A lot of the river flow is used up before it gets to the Mexican border. In an accounting twist, to make the numbers work out, US uses the water and Mexico gets to claim they are storing it in Lake Powell, so both governments are protecting the sacred trust of their citizens. It’s looking like Mexico has been storing less the last few years…/s

Last edited 15 days ago by DMacKenzie
JD Lunkerman
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 23, 2023 5:49 pm

At the cute border town of Los Algodones W of Yuma, where the snow birds get their teeth fixed among other services, you can see where the river stops as the final diversion is made. Check out Google Maps and you can see the area larger than the Imperial Valley that is watered by the Colorado within Mexico. It looks dry online, but it is a vibrant and huge farming complex. Trucks and produce growing and going every which way all the time. They are making good use of their water allocation. Not sure about why the books need to be cooked.

January 22, 2023 7:02 pm


Henry Pool
Reply to  Bob
January 22, 2023 9:59 pm

Nope. The drought time on the higher latitude of the NH could take another few years or so.

January 22, 2023 7:03 pm

Well, good. Now, had they only been intelligent enough to increase their reservoir capacity to catch and use more of it their problems would be over. Morons.

Reply to  2hotel9
January 23, 2023 5:40 am

There is only so much reservoir capacity, and adding more entails massively expensive and environmentally disruptive dams. What you see is what you get, the upper limit thereof.

The problem is not enough dams, the problem is too many users using too much water. That is their root problem and cause of their water issues.

Reply to  Duane
January 23, 2023 8:20 am

The problem is that a number of dams have been removed which has decreased the storage capacity, just the opposite of what is needed.

Reply to  Duane
January 23, 2023 2:22 pm

So the new Sites Reservoir being built in Colusa County, one of the largest in California, is a figment of our imagination?

There are still places to build reservoirs. The upper limit thereof is the intelligence and will to build reservoirs and do boring, mundane, and practical things that Californians need. Cocktail party leftists get exercised over artsy-fartsy minutiae; forgetting what it’s like to live in the real world outside their protected enclave.

Reply to  Duane
January 23, 2023 5:41 pm

Yes. When you leftarded stupid f*cks keep ripping out dams loss of reservoir water capacity is what happens, stupid f*ck.

Reply to  2hotel9
January 23, 2023 7:50 am

If there’s is “sufficient” water in the reservoirs, discharge to the sea to assist the smelt! Put all of CA into water shortage, system restored.

Bill Abell
January 22, 2023 7:20 pm

Boy, that is what I call some climate change. See what did we tell you there is climate change. Just like Al Gore said it will cause the reservoirs to rise.

Ron Long
Reply to  Bill Abell
January 23, 2023 2:00 am

Bill, you got the reason for continuing the “drought” category, it is Climate Change. The various Water Masters for western states include something called (like) Future Predictive Evaporative Index, which is an estimated value of how fast the water will evaporate, and, since we are sliding into a burning-hell-on-earth, all of that water will soon evaporate, like in magically disappear, because, you know, they know better than us.

January 22, 2023 7:26 pm

And so ends this latest chapter in the sordid “drought is the new normal due to climate change” meme. Wasn’t the last “drought is the new normal” ended similarly in 2017?

Reply to  BobM
January 22, 2023 7:39 pm

Snowfalls Droughts are now just a thing of the past – Children Californians just aren’t going to know what snow drought is.”

Does the alarmist media just have one headline that they keep recycling?

Reply to  BobM
January 22, 2023 7:47 pm

Not so fast Bob ….. it looks like having two crises at the same time could be the new normal:

“California is experiencing — coincidentally — both a drought emergency and a flood emergency,” said Karla Nemeth, the director of the state Department of Water Resources, adding that she attributed the situation to the impacts of climate change.

Scary isn’t it ….. no, not the impacts of climate change, but the fact that people who believe Karla walk among us.

Reply to  philincalifornia
January 22, 2023 8:52 pm

Yes, very scary. Leads to the question – Does Karla have a brain?

John Hultquist
Reply to  BobM
January 22, 2023 9:22 pm

She has a Master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.
Advanced degrees only mean that one has persistence (continuance of an effect after the cause is removed). However, CA is all about politics so knowing something about water resources is not a prerequisite for her job.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  BobM
January 23, 2023 10:37 am

More to the point-do the people who vote for people like Karla have a brain??

January 22, 2023 7:47 pm

Now, come summer, watch the fires kick off….

Elliot W
Reply to  lance
January 22, 2023 8:56 pm

And those fires will be blamed on… wait for it…Climate Catastrophe TM! (Not dried shrubs and grasses, and certainly not green arsonists.)

John Hultquist
Reply to  Elliot W
January 22, 2023 9:24 pm

Catastrophe™ [Use the Alt key and 0153 ]

Reply to  Elliot W
January 23, 2023 2:34 pm

global warming => climate change => climate catastrophe

Escalation is the natural progression of activists: complain, blame it on others, yell and scream, throw a tantrum, break things. Come to think of it, that’s what toddlers do to get attention.

January 22, 2023 7:49 pm

The weekly Palmer Drought index still shows about 3/4 of the state at “mid-range”.

Weekly Palmer Drought Indices | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) (

There is a time lag.

Reply to  rah
January 22, 2023 8:52 pm

The US Drought Monitor maps that many refer to is from this website:

They indicate:
Drought is defined as a moisture deficit bad enough to have social, environmental or economic effects.

Seems pretty subjective to me and is reason California can be water logged and still be defined as moderate to severe drought. We need some transparency on how they calculate their index.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  rah
January 23, 2023 7:38 am

There is also ground water aquifer recharge going on in the Central Valley in this precipitation, which is a good thing. I’ve commented before that this process could be enhanced with some engineering.

What is the scope of this type of water storage? Well, over the past 30years, drawdown of the aquifer has been some 2km³ of water/yr! If they hate dams so much, this is a much less visible option.

Curious George
Reply to  rah
January 23, 2023 9:41 am

Can we reconstruct what the California Drought Index was in 1862?

January 22, 2023 7:53 pm

It’s clear the meteorological drought is over, but the hydrological drought, i.e. quantity of water in storage will never be declared over until over-mined aquifers return essentially to their preindustrial levels. This is highly unlikely unless California decides to radically alter water policy, the climate changes to a long period of massive rains, or the state becomes depopulated.

It’s the textbook creation of a permanent crisis to be exploited by authoritarian politicians and bureaucrats.

Reply to  Charles Rotter
January 22, 2023 8:07 pm

There are effective ways to replace ground water from rain, when rain comes, but guess who couldn’t stand the thought of doing practical things.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Charles Rotter
January 22, 2023 9:30 pm

until over-mined aquifers return essentially to their preindustrial levels.” 
Where the underground layers have collapsed, I don’t think it is possible to return to the prior situation. I believe there is some of that in CA. A local geologist could provide insight.
Full disclosure: I have visited CA but I am not a geologist.

Reply to  Charles Rotter
January 23, 2023 2:52 pm

Well said. Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, accidentally spoke a fundamental leftist truth when he said “never allow a good crisis to go to waste when it’s an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn’t think were possible”. It was a “teachable moment” for those of us who didn’t understand how leftists work. They manufacture a crisis then use it to spend money on whatever they want, usually completely unrelated to the crisis or any attempt to fix it. At the time (November 2008, after Obama was just elected), Emanuel was talking about the 2008 recession, of which the worst breaches were being repaired already by TARP loans (which were repaid over the following months) to stabilize the economy. But he and his cohorts used the crisis to “stimulate” the economy with a breathtaking $800 billion in new spending (not loans) in February 2009 on everything under the sun that had nothing to do with the economy. Remember “cash for clunkers”? The “stimulus act” was composed almost entirely of languishing bills and wish lists that previous Congresses wouldn’t pass because they were ridiculous.

January 22, 2023 8:00 pm

While visiting SoCal last Friday VP Kaamala said these important words; “…the climate crisis requires a new and diverse range of approaches to water conservation in California.”

“Sometimes there will be days of intense water, rain, storms, flooding and at the same time, we are a state that has experienced, for generations, drought.”

I have to give her credit, her last statement described perfectly California’s climate.

Reply to  Kevin
January 22, 2023 11:58 pm

She forgot to say that there are well established and effective tools to deal with it. Specifically irrigation dams and flood mitigation dams.

Devils Tower
January 22, 2023 8:21 pm

The crazy up and down has always been there to see, it never left.

2017 with in 1/2 hour of topping Oroville lake.
2019 100 % full
2021 highest December snowfall on record around Tahoe, then nothing starting in jan22

The invasive eucalyptus trees and grasses will be well watered this fall, not to mention the brush

Normally in a drought year, every steam should run dry, but now thanks to the green morons the delta smelt drown. Check the level of the feather river during the next dry spell. Alot of idiots run calif.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Devils Tower
January 23, 2023 4:25 am

Thanks for the recent history lesson.

Alarmists don’t seem to have a sense of history. It’s like they were just born yesterday.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Tom Abbott
January 23, 2023 10:42 am

Or their gnat-like memory span goes no further back than the latest “scary” headline.

January 22, 2023 8:47 pm

Well that settles it. The world will end in 11 months.

Send money

January 22, 2023 8:54 pm

And so there will be more than usual greening come spring. Then the plants will die and dry out under the summer sun and so what happens next? A big wildfire season!

January 22, 2023 8:57 pm

But California needs better long-term planning and infrastructure to sustainabley support the current and future population and a huge agriculural industry.

Unfortunately, California HAS a superabundance of long-term planning and infrastructure, dominated by a pack of Sierra Clubbers whose long-term planning promotes returning to an unimproved Garden of Eden, where water impoundments are obliterated to favor the fishies and kayakers. Time for a change.

Kit P
January 22, 2023 9:00 pm

Once upon a time there three rains. Poppa rain was too big. Mamma rain was too babe rain was just right.

Gary Pearse
January 22, 2023 9:28 pm

Of course promotion of the Crisis Anthro Global Warming narrative is not served by sensible water impoundment solutions and proper forest management. Indeed the meme would disappear altogether without a policy of doing nothing.

That California is wet now with the heavy rains after years of drought, is proof that it could be green all the time.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 23, 2023 7:55 am

CTM: please okay my recent apropos comments. They are engineering content only.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 23, 2023 8:11 am

Requests such as this are a waste. I see the pending board 20 times more a day than I read through comments.

Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 2:24 am

I switched off the ad-blocker for few mins to look at a few of the little ‘one minute’ videos that Wunderground make – the interest was in some sort of plan to use this flood water to refill aquifers.
Seems reasonable enough – I was curious on how they’d actually do it.
Came away broken-hearted. Will I ever learn, this is Climate Science after all.

My concern comes from the picture at the top here and any/all videos/pix of The Flood Water.
Basically: It’s brown

2 points: All that brown-ness is everyone’s physical & mental health being flushed away, into the ocean and forever lost.
Everyone knows, thinks they know what ‘Dust Bowl was all about don;t they?
What is in those pix/videos of brown water is EXACTLY the same thing – except it’s water carrying/blowing stuff away instead of the wind.

Over to you: Was Dust Bowl a ‘climate’ thing or a ‘weather’ thing?
No matter, the damage is done.

Little voice:Any chance you might fix or repair that damage?

It did dawn on what An Aquifer would make of that silt/soil/stuff being carried by the water just being dumped in there.
Wouldn’t it simply block it it up = turn it into an impermeable lump and forever more useless as An Aquifer?
As I said, perfectly no mention or idea – the video equivalent of a ‘Brandon BLM’

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 3:17 am

Aquifers have recharge zones,\ I wonder the water could be channeled to that zone or sones for a particular aquifer and spread out in a manner that it can be efficiently absorbed before evaporating?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  rah
January 23, 2023 7:51 am

The entire eastern border of the Central Valley is where the sandstone aquifer comes near, and to the surface, dipping down westward under the valley. This is the very best set up for artificial recharge to be accomplished.

Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 2:43 am

On the off-chance anyone wanted a few snaps of the mass extinction as it proceeds, see the attached.
All that brownness in the water on the left side of the photo is = Life On Earth
(strictly small e earth, soil bacteria don’t swim too good. we’re next)

Cali Flood Rivers Brown jpg.jpg
January 23, 2023 5:42 am

Droughts are weather, not climate. We’ve always had droughts, we’ve always had weather, and always will.

Bruce Cobb
January 23, 2023 7:16 am

Lack of rain/snow = “climate change”.
Too much rain/snow = “climate change”.

January 23, 2023 7:57 am

The drought is over…until next year…and the year after that….and the year after that.

How long has it been since the last megadrought in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico? I know it was long before anyone was driving SUVs….

Rud Istvan
January 23, 2023 10:02 am

CA water scarcity is largely a self inflicted wound. The last storage reservoir was finished in 1980. The CA population then was about 24 million. It is now about 39 million.

AGW is Not Science
January 23, 2023 10:51 am

Since California is a mostly arid climate, nobody should have lawns (that require constant waste of water to ‘maintain.’)

Start there, with the celebrity Climate Fascists who probably all have golf course – like properties with massive lawns.

January 23, 2023 11:14 am

This is the same state that shuttered desalination plants. The same citizens who complain about sea levels rising. The same state that is 1/4 desert and at least another half that is historically very arid land. A drought in California – call that ‘normal’. Nothing abnormal about a dry California.

January 23, 2023 2:08 pm

The California Drought is Over. Again.

But that won’t stop the climate zealots from bleating like sick sheep that no one is doing anything to fix their climate; a climate so enviable that more Americans moved there than any other state. Until the leftists’ reign of terror ruined the state enough that people started moving away. But the climate remains as it ever was; generally moderate and subject to periods of drought. Which is why water storage is essential to weather the drought years, but the leftists (see above) have difficulty adopting sensible policies like storing more water.

Edward Katz
January 23, 2023 2:23 pm

It’s the same old story: the climate alarmists will use any type of information and equate it to some form of of climate change—caused by human activity of course. So we need to remember that whenever they start their ranting, all we have to do is look at a few facts and these will quickly dispel their hysterics.

January 23, 2023 5:04 pm

“Yet with all the liquid bounty, some in the media and elsewhere don’t want to give up on it, as noted in the NY Times headline below.”

“Despite Rain Storms, California Is Still in Drought!”

Alarmist scientists and left leaning government scientists have promised alarmists that California is permanently arid and will remain in drought forever.
Plus, these same scientists hinted that California may tip back into a serious drought like California’s historical droughts.

Polar bears, walruses, penguins, butterflies, salamanders, frogs, toads, etc. are thriving in spite of alarmist claims regarding climate change dooms for them.

All of their iconic poster and T-shirt endangered animals threatened by climate are thriving and only get labeled “endangered” because alarmists are screaming about precautionary endangerment.

Always, they’ve always had drought conditions in California for alarmists to write about and how much worse California’s drought could get.

Nothing to do with climate at all. It is all about the climate alarmism gravy train coming to a sudden precipitous end.
What if, California remains wet for a decade or longer?

That would be a sure method to institutionalize NYT writers Elena Shao, Mira Rojanasakul and Nadja Popovich. They might have to learn to write about other subjects.

January 23, 2023 8:10 pm

NOAA prefers their new measurements that will ALWAYS show LOTS of drought as opposed to the Palmer Drought index – the Palmer Drought index shows the actual drought conditions on the ground whereas the permanent drought shown by NOAA to the vast majority of folks describes “drought” in terms of what environmentalists DESIRE the amount of water in aquifers “should” be, a desire that can never be met, ergo, they get to claim ‘permanent drought’ prophesied in their Holy Book of Gore & Hansen… Story tip – how exactly does NOAA deprecate the Palmer index and use the additional scare-data promote their apocalypse narrative?

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