Full reservoirs, ample snowpack provide strong reasons for optimism
By TIM HEARDEN
Somebody in California reached to the sky in January and turned off the spigot.
The winter's ferocious start gave way last month to sunshine, fog and well-below-normal precipitation. For instance, Redding's 1.44 inches for the month pales in comparison to the 6.5 inches the city normally receives in January.
Still, most reservoirs remain nearly full and there's ample snowpack -- so much so that the state Department of Water Resources upped its anticipated water deliveries to farms and cities from 50 percent to 60 percent.
The respite from the torrential downpours of December was a good thing because it helped rivers and creeks recover, said Kathy Hoxsie, the National Weather Service's warning coordinator in Sacramento.
"The December storms brought us a tremendous amount of snow in the upper elevations, especially in the mountains above the San Joaquin Valley," Hoxsie said. "When you get a certain amount more snow than normal and a warm spring, you are going to have floods."
The state's record-setting precipitation in December pushed many areas well above their seasonal averages while filling reservoirs and piling lots of snow atop mountains.
The water content in the snowpack reached more than twice its normal levels, prompting water regulators to begin releasing water from reservoirs to make room for the runoff.
The West has been in a La Niña pattern with lots of storms aimed at the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. A more than two-week dry period for California ended Jan. 29, when a moderate system brought a little rain and snow.
Despite the dry spell, La Niña has not gone away, said Michelle L'Heureux, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center. A three-month outlook calls for lower temperatures in the West, with an equal chance of wetter- or drier-than-normal conditions for Northern California, she said.
In the past with La Niña conditions, California has tended to dry out as the winter progressed, she said.
"In our seasonal forecast, the forecasters elected not to go with dry conditions in Northern California," L'Heureux said. "What that tells me ... is they saw something else in their statistical models that caused them to shy away."
Hoxsie said conditions look favorable for more rain and snow at least through February and early March.
"We could still get rain after that," she said, "but that's when the best conditions tend to taper off."
Here are the January and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of Jan. 31:
Redding: Month to date 1.44 inches (normal 6.5 inches); season to date 17.51 inches (normal 18.13 inches)
Sacramento: Month to date 1.68 inches (normal 3.71 inches); season to date 11.06 inches (normal 9.71 inches)
Stockton: Month to date 0.76 inches (normal 2.62 inches); season to date 8.81 inches (normal 7.46 inches)
Modesto: Month to date 1.11 inches (normal 2.47 inches); season to date 7.50 inches (normal 6.76 inches)
Salinas: Month to date 1.69 inches (normal 2.53 inches); season to date 7.44 inches (normal 6.73 inches)
Fresno: Month to date 1.72 inches (normal 2.08 inches); season to date 9.88 inches (normal 5.45 inches)
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs as of midnight Jan. 30, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 74 percent
Shasta Lake: 77 percent
Lake Oroville: 69 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 72 percent
Folsom Lake: 49 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 66 percent
Lake McClure: 78 percent
Millerton Lake: 76 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 65 percent
Lake Isabella: 39 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 93 percent
Here are average snow water equivalents and comparisons to normal for the date in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center. Totals are as of Jan. 31:
North: 19 inches, 105 percent of normal
Central: 23 inches, 126 percent of normal
South: 25 inches, 166 percent of normal
Statewide: 23 inches, 130 percent of normal