SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Record rain and snowfall in recent weeks has eased half of California out of a persistent drought and bolstered the store of mountain snow that the state relies on to provide water during the warm, dry spring and summer.

Statewide on Friday there was nearly twice as much snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as is typical for March 3, the California Department of Water Resources said. The snow also was dense and wet, meaning that it held nearly 170% of the typical amount of water for this time of year, the agency said.

The snowpack is considered California's largest reservoir, and is vital to fill streams and lakes as it slowly melts.

"We could not be more fortunate to have this kind of precipitation after three very punishing years of dry and drought conditions," said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth.

The record precipitation and accompanying powerful storms in December and February have also dramatically lessened California's ongoing drought, a team of U.S. government agencies said this week.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and cooperating agencies showed that 17% of California was not experiencing any sort of abnormal dryness, while another third was dry but no longer officially in a state of drought.

By contrast, just three months ago the entire state was considered to be experiencing drought conditions. California has cycled through four periods of drought since 2000, making less water available to irrigate crops and sustain wildlife along with meeting the needs of the state's 40 million residents.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis)