March brought no miracle from the sky to Modesto area

03/31/2014 6:45 AM

03/31/2014 8:07 PM

Last month fell well short of a “March Miracle,” named for a remarkable turnaround in the weather in 1991, but it still brought a fair amount of rain and snow.

The Modesto Irrigation District had recorded 1.64 inches of rain for the month at its downtown gauge as of 5 p.m. Monday, and a new storm was bringing more as night approached. The total is less than the historical average for March of 1.91 inches, but it was a better month than most in this dismal rainy season.

The central Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 36 percent of average for the season as of Monday morning, according to the California Department of Water Resources, and fresh snow was falling in the evening.

The March snow was about average for the month – an acceptable amount in most years, but far less than what is needed to replenish the water supply for MID and nearby users of this supply.

April is starting with more stormy weather, including snow perhaps down to 2,000 feet in the Sierra today, but it will have to be plenty wet in the next few weeks to make a difference.

The “March Miracle” of 1991 brought some relief from a drought that, up until that month, was even worse than this year. The watershed of the Stanislaus River had just 10 percent of average snow through February 1991 but ended March at 76 percent, according to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. MID recorded 2.96 inches of rain in Modesto through February 1991 but added 4.27 inches in March.

The rain and snow did not end the drought, which started in 1987 and would last until 1992, but it did ease some of the restrictions on water users.

The current drought is in its third year. The first two were somewhat dry, but this year has brought much worse conditions. The central Sierra snowpack stood at 18 percent of average in late January but has doubled thanks to storms in late winter and early spring.

The National Weather Service estimated that Modesto could get 0.4 inches of rain Monday and today, with a chance of thunderstorms. It forecast an 80 percent chance of showers today, 70 percent tonight and 30 percent Wednesday. Thursday looks to be mostly sunny, while Friday has a slight chance of showers.

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