SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California's years-long dry spell has lifted dramatically during several months of heavy rain and snow, leaving just 17 percent of the most populous U.S. state in conditions that scientists consider to be drought, officials said Thursday.

The weekly report by the National Drought Mitigation Center spotlighted a few areas of Southern California where drought remains, a considerable drop from last year at this time, when 94 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions ranging from moderate to the most extreme category of "exceptional drought."

Heavy rains this year have strained flood control and water storage systems, most dramatically with the failure earlier this month of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam northeast of Sacramento, which led to mass evacuations of downstream towns.

But the water has replenished reservoirs and rivers, and recast hills in an emerald green not seen over five years of drought. The storms also brought snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains, reviving the state's ski industry and leaving a deep snowpack to melt in the spring and summer, providing water during California's dry season.


The mitigation center's Drought Monitor report showed that 83 percent of California is free of drought. About 38 percent of the state remains in conditions that the center's scientists view as abnormally dry, and 16.87 percent remains in a state of drought.

But none of California is considered to be experiencing extreme drought, compared with 61 percent at this time last year.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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