By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, Feb 1 (Reuters) - California has experienced one of the driest Januarys on record, and the lack of rain during a time of year when the weather is usually wet indicates the state is likely headed for a fourth straight year of drought, officials said.
A prolonged drought could portend further economic and environmental setbacks for the nation's most populous state, which has already lost both crops and jobs to the dry weather.
The state's driest January on record was in 1984, when the 30-day average precipitation in the state reached 0.33 of an inch (0.84 cm), under one method used to gauge rainfall statewide, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Mathews.
With the official measurement of this January's rainfall coming within a few days, it is shaping up to be the fourth driest January on record in the state, Mathews said.
The low rainfall combined with warmer-than-average temperatures have resulted in a meager snow pack, the California Department of Water Resources said in a statement.
A survey conducted on Thursday at a site called Echo summit in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which normally constitutes the state's largest store of fresh surface water, showed the snow pack at just 12 percent of normal, the statement said.
The survey findings make it "likely that California's drought will run through a fourth consecutive year," it said.
Climatologists expressed cautious optimism in December when they observed above-normal precipitation in the northern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but little rain has fallen there in the past month.
Northern California's Lake Oroville, which is the State Water Project's principal reservoir with a capacity of 3.5 million acre feet (432,000 hectare meters), stands at about 60 percent of the average for this date, officials said.
Sacramento recorded only 0.01 of an inch (0.03 cm) of rain in January, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1877, the Sacramento office of the Weather Service said on Facebook. Stockton and Modesto also set records for the month, it said.
California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, declared a drought state of emergency a year ago and state officials have encouraged people to refrain from watering their lawns. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Stephen Powell)