December 31, 2012

Freeze warning issued for Merced area

Rain is absent in Merced's immediate weather forecast, but the cold nights are expected to continue.

A freeze warning is out tonight and Tuesday night into Wednesday morning for the central and southern San Joaquin Valley, said Gary Sanger, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Light winds will come and go over the next couple days and there's a slight chance of fog, Sanger said.

"We could see some patchy fog, but the air is very dry, so we don't think there's going to be widespread fog," he said.

The National Weather Center is calling for high temperatures in the low to mid-50s through Friday with lows in the low 30s. For the weekend, Sanger expects lows in the mid- to upper 30s with highs in the mid-50s.

Gino Pedretti III, dairy manager for Pedretti Ranches, said the freezing temperatures won't affect the majority of Merced County's crops, but could slow the growth of some types of grasses and winter forages crops.

Fruit trees, such as oranges, are more susceptible to be harmed by freezes, he added.

While rain is unlikely in the next few days, Merced has already doubled its usual rainfall for the month with 2.96 inches, Sanger said. The normal rainfall total for this time of month is 1.45 inches.

For the season, Merced's had 4.83 inches of rain, while the normal rainfall is 3.75 inches for this time of year, Sanger said.

That precipitation has translated into lots of snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, which is well above the average snowfall for December.

The snow has resulted in some restrictions on roads in the Yosemite area, according to Yosemite National Park's road and weather hot line.

Drivers must have chains or 4-wheel-drives with snow tires on Badger Pass Road and Highway 41 toward Fresno. Big Oak Flat Road, including Highway 120 West of Crane Flat, requires chains or snow tires.

There are no chain restrictions on Highway 140 toward Merced and roads within Yosemite Valley.

Hetch Hetchy Road and Mariposa Grove Road are temporarily closed. Tioga Pass Road and Glacier Point Road beyond Badger Pass are both closed because of snow and ice.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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