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March improves rangelands, snowpack

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Brief respite helps refill reservoirs, experts say


By TIM HEARDEN


Capital Press


SHASTA LAKE, Calif. -- A wet March helped quench the thirst of fields, orchards and rangelands throughout the Golden State, but a dry pattern may return in April.


The high-pressure ridge that kept California dry for most of the winter shifted east this month, enabling many areas to achieve above-normal precipitation for the month, according to National Weather Service gauges.


For example, Redding's 4.8 inches of rain for the month as of March 27 topped its normal total of 3.87 inches, although the city's seasonal total of 18.37 inches still lags far behind its normal 29.1 inches. Likewise, Sacramento's precipitation was slightly above normal for the month but has been roughly half of normal for the season.


And after another round of storms this weekend, high pressure appears to be returning to its familiar perch above the state next week, which should dry things out, said George Cline, a forecaster for the weather service in Sacramento.


"Even if we get normal precipitation in April, it's not a lot," Cline said.


The mid-March onslaught of rain and snow helped many California reservoirs remain near capacity. Shasta Lake, for instance, was at 78 percent of capacity and 97 percent of its average as of March 26, according to the state Department of Water Resources' California Data Exchange Center.


It also somewhat improved the state's woeful snow-water content, which was at 47 percent of normal as of March 27 compared with only 30 percent at the end of February, the DWR reported.


The agency is set to conduct its final snow survey of the season next week, which could offer a bit of relief for farmers and ranchers who were told last month their water allotments were being cut back because of the dry winter.


The rains came as many fruit and nut trees had started their blossoms. According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service:


* The late winter storms helped wheat, rye and oats continue to mature, and alfalfa fields continued to green well.


* Vegetable growers put heat caps on tomatoes and kept newly planted Italian squash and cucumber seedlings tented under plastic, although development and harvests of other vegetables have continued unabated.


* Nonirrigated rangeland began to gradually improve, as fields and rolling hillsides continued to green around the state. Temperatures in the southern San Joaquin Valley remained favorable for milk production.


There's still room for improvement -- particularly in Glenn and Colusa counties, which are considering drought declarations, said Josh Davy, a University of California Cooperative Extension livestock advisor in Red Bluff, Calif.


"If this (rain) really comes in March and April, it could save us," he said.




March rainfall


Here are the March and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of March 27:


Redding: Month to date 4.8 inches (normal 3.87 inches); season to date 18.37 inches (normal 29.1 inches)


Eureka: Month to date 6.49 inches (normal 4.56 inches); season to date 27.75 inches (normal 33.74 inches)


Sacramento: Month to date 2.65 inches (normal 2.43 inches); season to date 8.35 inches (normal 16.16 inches)


Modesto: Month to date 2.38 inches (normal 1.8 inches); season to date 5.95 inches (normal 11.15 inches)


Salinas: Month to date 2.2 inches (normal 1.98 inches); season to date 7.94 inches (normal 11.18 inches)


Fresno: Month to date 2.04 inches (normal 1.77 inches); season to date 5.74 inches (normal 9.65 inches)



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