This winter, relentlessly wet weather patterns bathed the United States with much-needed water. As a result, drought levels in the United States are at their lowest since Y2K, according to an analysis released by the United States Drought Monitor (USDM). Only 5.4 percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions right now, the lowest level on record since the USDM began a weekly analysis of abnormally dry conditions on January 4, 2000.
The USDM’s job is to measure the severity of a region’s dryness based on data like observed rainfall, soil moisture, streamflow, and water levels in lakes and reservoirs. This precipitation data is categorized on a five-point scale that ranges from “abnormal dryness,” the lowest category, to “exceptional drought”—reserved for the worst and longest-lasting drought conditions.
About 12 percent of the country is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions, usually indicative of fleeting dryness that can often be remedied with a decent afternoon of soaking rain. The regions still thirsting for water are mostly in the southeastern United States, where widespread severe drought conditions persist over central and southern parts of Florida. The worst drought conditions exist there and over the mountains of northern Georgia, a tiny area that’s seen a rainfall deficit of 8 to 12 inches since last fall. But drought conditions across the rest of the country are largely scattered and limited in both scope and duration.
A major contributing factor to these delightfully low drought levels is California’s incredible reversal in fortunes this past winter. The state endured a devastating, years-long drought that abruptly came to an end after a steady train of storms rolled ashore and produced copious amounts of rain and snow. Much of central and northern parts of California have seen rainfall amounts of 1 to 2 feet above normal over the past six months. The Sierra Nevada mountain range in particular has seen more than 100 inches of snow this season, erasing previous years’ snowfall deficits and building up a significant reserve of meltwater to replenish downstream reservoirs when the warmth of summer takes hold.
Ironically, areas that were too dry not too long ago are now trying to cope with too much rainfall. North Carolina was hit especially hard toward the end of April, when a slow-moving storm system dropped more than 6 inches of rain across some of the most populated parts of the state. The heavy, steady rain mostly erased the state’s rainfall deficit in one weekend, but it also caused some major flooding problems. Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, found itself in a “flash flood emergency” on April 25, 2017, after excessive rains swelled local waterways beyond their banks and threatened homes, businesses, and major thoroughfares. When it comes to rain, as with everything in life, moderation is the goal.