Modesto area’s dry stretch could end this week

01/26/2014 7:14 PM

01/26/2014 8:36 PM

Finally, after nearly eight weeks with zero rain in the Modesto area, it could start to fall.

The National Weather Service said a storm expected Wednesday could bring rain to the Northern San Joaquin Valley and snow to upper watersheds in the Sierra Nevada.

It won’t end the drought, not by a long shot, but we’ll take it. Water managers are already talking about sharp cutbacks for farmers, groundwater pumping is raising tensions, and the Dodge Ridge ski area has yet to open.

The weather service said Sunday that it finally has seen a weakening in the high-pressure system that has caused conditions to be dry and warm.

“Exact timing and intensity are still uncertain, but there is increasing confidence that much of the area will see some precipitation,” an advisory from the agency’s Sacramento office said.

Modesto last had rain Dec. 7. Its total for the storm season so far is 1.74 inches, according to the Modesto Irrigation District. The historical average through January is 6.65 inches.

More important is the mountain snowpack, which provides most of the water used by north valley farmers and much of the city supplies. The central Sierra had just 14 percent of average snowpack as of Friday, the California Department of Water Resources reported.

Rain and snow are measured from July 1 to June 30, but most of the storms come from October to May.

The state is in its third straight year of drought. This year has been the worst, not just because of the dismal rain and snow totals, but because many reservoirs are running out of the stored supply they had accumulated in the wet years of 2010 and 2011.

The weather service urged drivers to be cautious on wet roadways and to watch for snow on mountain passes that are open. Highway 108 is closed for the winter seven miles east of Strawberry. Highway 120 is closed at Crane Flat but still provides access to Yosemite Valley.

Dodge Ridge, which lacks snowmaking capacity, is watching the weather closely. “Though we’re not quite open yet, we’re poised and ready to open as soon as we can,” said an online update Sunday.

The Bear Valley ski area has limited terrain available.

The weather service forecast a chance of rain in the Modesto area Thursday and Friday, followed by a dry weekend.

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