MODESTO -- One final December storm, possibly arriving tonight, could top off a great start to the rain and snow season.
Modesto has had 6.5 inches of rain since July 1, according to the Modesto Irrigation District, and is a little more than halfway to the average seasonal total of 12.2 inches.
The bulk of the rain tends to come from December through March, so there's a good chance this will be an above-average season.
More important, the snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada stood at 151 percent of average Thursday, the California Department of Water Resources reported.
The snowmelt will provide most of the water for Modesto-area farmers and domestic users in spring and summer.
Nothing is for sure. Modesto had at least 6 inches of rain through December in nine of the past 33 years. In two of those years 1984-85 and 2001-02 the season ended below average.
There's also a chance that a season that starts wet will stay wet. Take 1982-83, when the city got 8.81 inches through December and 17.2 inches the rest of the way, a record 26.01 inches for the season.
The measurements run from July 1 to June 30.
The National Weather Service forecast a chance of rain in Modesto tonight and Saturday, followed by dry weather through New Year's Day.
A 90-day forecast from the agency's Climate Prediction Center suggests "equal chances" that the weather will be wet, average or below average.
The center projects that the first half of 2013 will not bring El Niño, a warming of equatorial Pacific waters that can produce heavy storms in California.
"The most recent forecast looks like a neutral event," meteorologist David Unger said. "In a neutral El Niño year, anything can happen."
The wet start to this storm season stands in marked contrast to a year ago. Back then, people were bicycling up a snow-free road to Dodge Ridge in Tuolumne County rather than skiing down its slopes. Cattle ranchers, looking out on rangeland as dry as in summer, struggled to feed their animals.
Storms from late January to April made up for some of the losses, but the season still was below average.
The current weather has water managers and ski resort owners smiling.
Dodge Ridge, off Highway 108, had a 4-foot base and 6 inches of fresh powder Thursday morning. Bear Valley Ski and Snowboard Resort on Highway 4 has a 78-inch base with a foot of new snow.
The Stockton Record and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.