February 10, 2014

Water levels still very low, despite weekend rain in Merced area

The rainfall in Merced County was enough that dense fog is in the forecast for the next few days, followed by temperatures that are about 5 degrees warmer than usual, according to forecasters. Merced and Mariposa counties saw greater rainfall than most of the Central Valley.

Merced and Mariposa counties saw greater rainfall than most of the Central Valley, so forecasters are expecting foggy mornings early this week.

Most of the rain in the state stayed north, but Merced and its closest neighbors caught the storm’s runoff, said meteorologist Kevin Durfee of the National Weather Service in Hanford.

“Merced County and Mariposa County fared much better with precipitation from this last system than any other part of Central California,” Durfee said. “The neighbors to our south, they’re not sitting as pretty right now.”

Merced sopped up 0.61 inches of rain since Thursday, Los Banos reached 0.63 inches and Mariposa received 0.86 inches.

Durfee said those numbers are not enough to make any recognizable dent in California’s drought, which was declared 25 days ago by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The rain gave little relief to Lake McClure, which supplies many growers in the county with water for their crops. The lake still remains at historic low levels and the snowpack is well below average, according to Merced Irrigation District spokesman Mike Jensen.

The lake is at 214,540 acre-feet. An acre-foot, which amounts to roughly 325,000 gallons of water, is the amount it would take to cover one acre 1 foot deep.

The months of October, November and December saw 5,500 acre-feet of inflow to Lake McClure. The average for that time is 66,000 acre-feet, Jensen said.

The rainfall was enough, however, to set up foggy mornings this week. Durfee said the combination of clear skies and moist ground means dense fog today and Wednesday. The rest of the week will be dry and unseasonably warm, around 70, Durfee said.

Four to 7 inches of snow hit the Sierra, but most of it fell above 9,000 feet. That is not good for long-term storage, Durfee said, because elevations below 9,000 feet saw liquid precipitation. “With above-normal temperatures, and dry weather being here for the next several days, that snowpack’s going to be depleting,” he said.

The Sierra snowpack is already well below normal, with the northern portion at 19 percent, according to measurements by the California Department of Water Resources. The monthly snow survey is intended to measure snow depth and water content in a region crucial to statewide water supplies.

Snowfall last week was heavy enough in the Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park to open that portion for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, according to Lisa Cesaro, public relations manager for the ski area.

The resort opened the downhill portion during the weekend, but a hill used for tubing remains closed.

With the dry weather this year, Badger Pass was offering some of its springtime activities, such as bicycling and horseback riding. Now fans of snow sports will get their turn.

There is a small chance that another storm is in the forecast.

Durfee said there could be rain Saturday night or Sunday, but “we’re not terribly confident that there will be much, if any, precipitation.”

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