The Drought Monitor map of California, released on Dec. 11, 2014.
The Drought Monitor map of California, released on Dec. 11, 2014.

Wet weather has finally returned to parched California, and while the rain helps to quench the oppressive drought, it falls far short of ending the drought. 

According to the latest Drought Monitor, roughly 80 percent of California is in extreme or worse drought – the 24th consecutive week reporting at least 78 percent of the state in these levels. Despite early indications the drought was poised to linger well into 2015, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook showed improving conditions through the end of February.

Though skeptics of this long-range forecast remain, a major winter storm – the state’s most powerful storm in at least five years – are giving others hope that the tide, or in this case the weather pattern, may be changing.

This storm brought as much as 6 inches of rain to the dry state. It also spawned a rare tornado in Los Angeles and boosted the Sierra snowpack to 40 percent.

Even with the rain, it’s far too early to celebrate the end of the drought. Alan Haynes, service coordination hydrologist at the California Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento, explained to Bloomberg in a report here that reservoirs have been left at less than one-third of capacity in the wake of three years of below-normal rain and snowfall. It would take at least five similar storms to replenish these deficits.

“We need a much wetter-than-normal season to recover,” Haynes said. “If we don’t get the precipitation up in the mountains, we don’t address the long-term supply issues that we’re facing.”

The Department of Water Resources estimates the state would need about 75 inches of rain by the end of the water year on Sept. 30, 2015, to end the drought. Read, “What the precipitation will and won't do for California.”