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Valley's wet as storm whitens Sierra

The sun made a token appearance late in the afternoon Tuesday, silhouetting a battered oak tree on Jennings Road, a few miles north of West Main, east of the San Joaquin River.  More rain is expected to fall today and Thursday.
The sun made a token appearance late in the afternoon Tuesday, silhouetting a battered oak tree on Jennings Road, a few miles north of West Main, east of the San Joaquin River. More rain is expected to fall today and Thursday. Modesto Bee

A storm Tuesday assured a very white Christmas for ski areas and raised hopes that drought won't beset Central Valley farmers in the new year.

Dodge Ridge Ski Area announced that it will open Thursday, a little later than usual for the Pinecrest-area resort in Tuolumne County.

The Modesto Irrigation District reported 0.64 inches of rain at its downtown gauge as of 7 p.m. Tuesday. More important, the snowpack that will supply most of the water next year has started to build after a slow start.

"The reports are very heavy snow, and that's great," water use manager Joe Lima told the MID board. "They're talking about 3 to 5 feet of snow in the next few days."

The National Weather Service forecast more rain and snow today and Thursday, followed by a dry weekend and possibly another storm on Christmas Eve.

"We're very happy that we're going to be able to open for the Christmas break crowds," Dodge Ridge spokesman Andy Wyllie said.

Before this week, the state had received just 61 percent of average precipitation since July 1, the California Department of Water Resources reported.

That came on top of the below-average rain and snow last winter and spring, which reduced storage in reservoirs, though not to the critical levels seen in the early 1990s and mid-1970s.

"We're always happy to see rain here," state hydrologist Maury Roos said. "(The storm) doesn't get us up to normal for this time of year, but a couple more of these will help."

The National Weather Service said the storm series could last into January.

"It's actually a pretty active pattern," said meteorologist Kyle Mozley. "It looks like this could be a pretty good white Christmas. It's just one storm after another. The ski resorts are happy about that."

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, drivers on Highway 108 needed chains or snow tires from a mile west of Long Barn to the winter closure 7.2 miles east of Strawberry.

Highway 4's chain restrictions started 4.5 miles east of Arnold until the road closure just past the Mount Reba summit.

Chains were required in Yosemite National Park, and Highway 120 is closed for the winter over Tioga Pass.

Chains and snow tires were required on all vehicles, except four-wheel drives with snow tires on all four wheels, over the summits of Interstate 80 and Highway 50. Highway 88 is closed for avalanche control.

Tuesday's storm was a cold one, meaning that the snowpack will not melt right off.

"It's a vacationer's dream come true because it's happening right before a major holiday," said Rachael Woods, spokeswoman for the Alpine Meadows and Homewood ski resorts in north Lake Tahoe.

Flooding has not been a concern with the latest storm, as rivers in Northern and Central California were just beginning to register the rainfall, Roos said. Much of the precipitation is falling as snow in the Sierra.

The rainfall raised concerns of mudslides and flash floods in Southern California, where wildfires this fall denuded hillsides. No evacuations were ordered as of Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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

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