Modesto had average rainfall in the year that ended Sunday. There’s more to the story

By one measure — rainfall in downtown Modesto — the weather year that ended Sunday was about average.

By more important measures — in the mountains feeding our local rivers — the year was plenty wet. And the figures bring warnings for people planning to visit the streams on Independence Day and later in the summer.

The Tuolumne River flowed at 1,116 cubic feet per second Tuesday at the Ninth Street Bridge in Modesto, the California Department of Water Resources reported. That’s down about half from a week ago but still about 10 times the level in drier times.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts have been releasing extra water from Don Pedro Reservoir to make room for the above-average snowmelt from up above.

The same goes for New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River, which was reported at 2,035 cubic feet per second Tuesday at the Orange Blossom Bridge east of Oakdale.

People playing in or near the rivers should wear life jackets and watch out for slippery rocks and underwater limbs that can do them harm. Raft and other boat trips are best done under the guidance of a pro.

Hazards await also on streams upstream of the big reservoirs, as a San Jose teen learned June 23 on the middle fork of the Stanislaus at Dardenelle, way up in Tuolumne County.

The snowpack is 127 percent for average as of Tuesday for the part of the Sierra Nevada feeding the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and other tributaries to the San Joaquin River, the DWR said.

So why was Modesto rainfall just slightly above average — with 12.5 inches recorded by MID in the year ending Sunday, June 30? The city is on a lowland plain that gets relatively little from the storms. But rising just to the east is a watershed that tops 13,000 feet and can get potent blizzards and rainstorms.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.