Storm’s help to Modesto-area water supply minimal

jholland@modbee.comJanuary 30, 2014 

— A long-overdue storm Thursday reminded Modesto residents that, yes, it really can rain, but it did little to ease this especially harsh drought.

The Modesto Irrigation District recorded 0.45 inches of rain from the storm as of 6 p.m. – somewhat more than the National Weather Service had forecast. It brought the total for the season to 2.19 inches, about a third of the 6.65 inches received through January in an average year.

The snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada stood at 15 percent of average as of Thursday afternoon, up from 12 percent before the storm arrived, the California Department of Water Resources reported.

The upshot: We got enough rain to wash cars that were getting dusty, and to put off plans for midwinter watering of our yards, but the region is still deep in drought.

“The rain this week will simply be a pause in the continually worsening conditions,” said Michelle Mead, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento, in an email.

The weather service said most of the Valley is suffering from “extreme” drought, and western Merced County is in the even worse “exceptional” category.

The weather service forecast a 40 percent chance of showers Thursday night and a 20 percent chance today. It also sees a 20 percent chance of rain for Sunday, which had been dry in previous forecasts.

Thursday’s rain, the first in Modesto since Dec. 7, left some of the soil moisture that nut and fruit growers like to see in advance of the bloom in February and later. It watered fields that grow cow feed for dairy farmers, who lack access to canal water in winter. And it provided a little hope to the beef cattle producers whose rangelands have not greened up this year.

In an online update Thursday, the Dodge Ridge ski area near Pinecrest said the storm “likely won’t bring enough snow for an opener,” but it could happen if more storms follow.

Statewide, the snowpack was reported at 12 percent of average Thursday, with two months to go in the usual storm season. It was the lowest figure for Jan. 30 in records dating to 1960, beating out the 21 percent in 1991.

The snowpack supplies most of the water used in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation districts already are planning cutbacks of varying severity.

“This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin in a news release Thursday. “Now more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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