Last winter was the driest in America since 1895, with records set in 12 states, the Commerce Department has reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in a separate report, said that streams and groundwater levels have not yet fully recovered, even after a month of drenching rains in the nation.

Survey hydrologists said that stream flow in May was far below normal at half of the 162 key measuring statins in the nation, with the lowest water reported in a band across the Midwest and Southeast.

The rains have brought partial relief to Florida, the state hardest hit by drought. Water restrictions there have been rolled back from a 25 percent to 10 percent mandatory reduction for most residents. Up to 20,000 residents who live near the Lake Okeechobee reservoir have been kept under the 25 percent restriction, however, because the lake level has dropped to about l percent of its storage capacity, according to Bruce Adams of the South Florida Water Management District.

Streams in Virginia were at their lowest May level in 50 years, and record lows were also set for some streams in North Carolina, Georgia and some midwestern states, the Geological Survey reported.

Last winter, recors or near-records were set in 23 states. Nearly all were at their driest or second-driest winter on record. In the West, rcords were also set for the warmest winter on record, while in the East some states came near their coldest winter.

It was the fifth consecutive winter with below-average temperatures across the East, reinforcing the belief of some weather researchers that the nation has entered a new era of severe and erratic weather after having some 40 years of extraordinarily good weather.