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California moves into its warm, dry season

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

As California moves into its warm season, the chances are likely that most areas will end up with about half their normal seasonal rainfall totals.

SACRAMENTO — The precious little rainfall that California received in April will likely leave most areas with about half their normal precipitation for the season.

Farmers and others in the Golden State were teased in the past month with several weather systems, including one last week that scattered light showers across northern areas and brought measurable mountain snow.

But all of that is likely over now, as California is transitioning into a warm-season pattern that was expected to bring near-record afternoon highs and dry conditions.

“We’re going to go from winter this past weekend to summer temperatures,” said Michelle Mead, a National Weather Service warning coordinator here.

Some weather models have hinted at more rain early next week, but “the probability is not looking very good,” Mead said. “We are transitioning into our hot, dry months.”

The dry weather is likely helping rice growers proceed with their plantings. Corn and tomatoes are also being planted at this time of year, and some cotton growers are replanting after encountering some seeding disease, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.

The dry outlook comes as state Department of Water Resources surveyors were scheduled May 1 to take the year’s final measurement of water content in the Sierra snowpack, which state officials say has already begun to melt into streams and reservoirs with warming spring temperatures.

The statewide April 1 snowpack — normally considered the season’s peak — measured just 32 percent of the normal water content for the date, according to the DWR. Consequently, the state and federal water projects’ principal reservoirs, Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake, were at 53 percent of capacity as of April 28.

Growers had hoped for a continuation of February and March storms to improve their state and federal water allocations, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation did boost the allotments of Sacramento River settlement contractors to 75 percent of normal deliveries. State contractors without senior water rights will get 5 percent of their normal allocations after Sept. 1.

Now many are putting their hopes on predictions of a developing El Nino, an atmospheric phenomenon characterized by above-normal rainfall in Southern California. In 2009-2010, a strong El Nino brought a persistent parade of rain clouds that broke precipitation records and filled reservoirs, helping California emerge from what had been a three-year drought.

However, Mead cautions that El Nino conditions don’t always mean copious amounts of rain and snow, especially in northern areas where the rain is needed to replenish reservoirs. California’s historic drought year of 1976-77 was an El Nino year, she said.

“Right now there’s no indication on the strength,” she said. “We’re in really a dynamic time … To try and pinpoint how strong the El Nino is futile. We’ll have better indications as we get into the summer months.”

April rainfall

Here are the monthly and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of April 29:

Redding: Month to date 0.17 inches (normal 2.34 inches); season to date 17.62 inches (normal 31.94 inches)

Eureka: Month to date 1.37 inches (normal 3.16 inches); season to date 20.18 inches (normal 37.64 inches)

Sacramento: Month to date 1.03 inches (normal 1.1 inches); season to date 9.79 inches (normal 17.58 inches)

Modesto: Month to date 0.85 inches (normal 0.92 inches); season to date 6.99 inches (normal 12.31 inches)

Salinas: Month to date 0.56 inches (normal 0.89 inches); season to date 5.85 inches (normal 12.35 inches)

Fresno: Month to date 0.74 inches (normal 0.9 inches); season to date 4.77 inches (normal 10.81 inches)


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