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Dry California welcomes weekend rain

Posted: February 8, 2014 10:38 p.m.
Updated: February 8, 2014 10:38 p.m.
 

Californians accustomed to complaining about the slightest change in the weather welcomed a robust weekend storm that soaked the northern half of the drought-stricken state Saturday even as rain and snow brought the threat of avalanches, flooding and rock slides.

The storm that moved in Friday, powered by a warm, moisture-packed system from the Pacific Ocean known as a Pineapple Express, had dropped more than 7 inches of rain on Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais, an average of 4 inches in Sonoma County and one to three inches in San Francisco, San Jose and other urban areas, National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Strudley said.

Although the storm didn’t make it to Southern California, it dumped snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were virtually barren of the usual winter snowpack. That annual snowpack provides water to many Southern California communities including the Santa Clarita Valley, which gets about 50 percent of its water supply from the northern Sierra Nevada snowpack.

With areas north of San Francisco forecast to see another few inches by Sunday, the downpour was ample enough to flood roadways and prompt warnings that parched streams could be deluged to the point of overflowing, but by itself will not solve the state’s drought worries, Strudley said.

“The yearly rainfall around here, depending on where you were, was less than 10 percent of normal,” he said. “The additions from this last series of storms and the totals are taking a dent out of it, but it is not a significant dent.”

Still, seeing the water levels in a local reservoir and his backyard pond creeping up and small streams flowing again cheered Willits City Councilman Bruce Barton. Willits, a city in the heart of redwood country that usually sees about 50 inches of rain a year and was expected to get about four inches over the weekend, is one of 17 rural communities that California’s Department of Public Health recently described as dangerously low on water.

“It’s guarded optimism. We are a long ways from where we need to be, but we have to start with some sort of a raindrop,” Barton said.

The storm deposited a foot of snow for Lake Tahoe ski resorts that have relied on man-made snow for much of the season, and elevations above 7,500 feet were expected to get another foot or two by Sunday, said Holly Osborne, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

While the fresh snow delighted skiers and resort operators, the Sierra Avalanche Center warned Saturday that the danger of avalanches, both natural and human-triggered, was high in a wide swath of the central Sierra Nevada because wind had blown new snow onto weak layers of existing ice and rock.

Tiffany Morrissey, a Silicon Valley family doctor who was working on ski patrol at the Alpine Meadows resort Saturday, said several lifts and runs were closed as a safety precaution but that cars carrying people wanting a taste of fresh powder filled up the parking lots.

“It’s a heavy, wet snow, and because of the avalanche danger the lines are pretty long. But you could hear people having a great time out on the mountain,” Morrissey said.

Forecasters hope the storm portends an end to the persistent dry weather that has plagued the state for months and contributed to its drought emergency. Light precipitation is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, and another storm is possible next weekend.

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