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Rain, rain won't go away

It won't do any good to sing the old ditty, "Rain, rain go away, come again another day" for a while. Rain that arrived Tuesday continues to soak Merced and shows no sign of leaving before the weekend, if even then.

The steady precipitation showering the area hasn't caused any major problems since arriving here but the ground has soaked up just about all it can, leading to runoff and some ponding.

Hicham Eltal, assistant general manager for water resources and engineering operations for the Merced Irrigation District, said 1.7 inches of rain has been recorded since Monday at the Le Grand Canal just north of UC Merced. At MID's downtown Merced headquarters, 1.2 inches of rain has been measured.

Eltal said runoff from Black Rascal Creek, which feeds into Bear Creek, has been running at 300 cubic feet per second and isn't expected to increase appreciably in the next few days. Bear Creek, normally nearly dry this time of year, was running 800 CFS on Wednesday afternoon and could reach 1,600 CFS by this afternoon.

The creek can handle 60,000 to 70,000 CFS, he said.

Hanford-based National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Sanger said there's a 70 percent chance of rain today, 80 percent tonight and 90 percent on Friday. There's a 50 percent chance of rain over the weekend.

The storm, parked off the Monterey Bay coast, which is spinning off moisture to the Central Valley, will move inland today but there's another storm right behind it, Sanger said.

Steady rain was in evidence for about five auto accidents, four of them noninjury and one with minor injury, Wednesday morning in the city of Merced, according to Sgt. Cruz Jasso of the Merced Police Department.

Officer Shane Ferriera, California Highway Patrol spokesman, said rain hasn't had a big impact on area traffic accidents. CHP officers investigated one accident each Wednesday in Delhi-Turlock, Hilmar and Santa Fe Drive/Bellevue Road areas.

In the city of Merced, no major rain-related problems surfaced. City spokesman Mike Conway said there were some reports of minor flooding where storm drains either clogged or didn't drain fast enough but public works crews received less than 20 calls on ponding issues.

Puddles surfaced on R Street as they regularly do, along with 15th Street, but there were no reports of trees down.

"It's been a good storm in that the rain has been steady, but it has been light enough that most of it can soak into the ground," Conway said.

Merced County spokesman Mark Hendrickson said county public works crews have been closely monitoring local creeks and streams but there have not been any abnormal flows. There have been a few areas with ponding but nothing significant. A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokesman had no power outages to report for the Merced area Wednesday.

Eltal and MID General Manager Garith Krause cautioned people shouldn't think recent rains have washed away the prospect of a dry spring, abnormal season totals and water curtailments later in the year.

"It's been a nice, gentle storm, and that's a good one to have," Krause said. "Hopefully we will get a greater snowpack from the latest of these storms. We could still end up with a dry year scenario. If the drought is over, we don't know."

The latest storm has been steady but not intense. Residents are seeing saturation of the topsoil and the start of runoff, Eltal said.

In the La Nina year, short windows of moisture are possible but by the end of February, this area may not see any more rain, Eltal cautioned.

The latest rains have had minimal impact on water storage at Exchequer Reservoir. There is 254,000 acre-feet of water in storage in a reservoir that can hold more than a million acre-feet.

Krause said Valley agricultural areas have gotten the brunt of the latest rains, which have skirted the mountains, where snowpack builds for later release in spring and summer months.

Sanger, the meteorologist, said current storms are originating in the Gulf of Alaska. In a La Nina year, weather is never as predictable as an El Nino year.

Unsettled weather patterns will remain locally through the middle of next week. There's a 20 percent chance of rain next Monday through Wednesday, Sanger said.

The Weather Service's rainfall-measuring instrumentation at the Merced municipal airport broke down Wednesday morning. Between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday, 0.20 of an inch was recorded and 0.81 was recorded Tuesday. At least 1.25 to 1.5 inches of rain should have fallen on the Merced area by midnight Wednesday from this week's storm, Sanger said.

A rockslide blocked part of a lane of Highway 140 at Trower Road in the Catheys Valley area about 12:11 p.m. Wednesday. It was cleared up by 12:28 p.m., according to CHP officers in the Fresno Traffic Management Center.

Steady rains resulted in grounding of medical helicopters Wednesday night.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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