Dry days to follow rain in Merced

The rainfall in Merced on Thursday was more than predicted earlier in the week, but there’s no more precipitation in sight, according to weather forecasters.

Merced was sprinkled with about 0.31 of an inch of rain, according to meteorologist Jim Dudley of the National Weather Service in Hanford. That’s about three times the amount expected earlier this week.

On the West Side, Los Banos saw 0.45 of an inch while Gustine recorded .034. As expected, the foothills received even more rain, with Mariposa getting nearly an inch – 0.88.

Yosemite Valley was drenched with 1.76 inches of rain. “Yosemite got a good soaking rain,” Dudley said. “A real good rain up there, to say the least.”

A 20 percent chance of rain continues through today, Dudley said, while noting that further precipitation is unlikely. “Most of the rain has moved through,” he said.

Though dry, the weather will be cooler into the weekend with highs in the upper 50s, Dudley said.

The return of dry weather is bad news for farmers, ranchers, city officials and anyone else watching the water levels in reservoirs. Officials say 2013 was the state’s driest calendar year on record.

“One storm doesn’t break a drought,” Dudley said. “We need a lot of rain. We need a series of these storms moving through to start to alleviate things.”

It’s been two weeks since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California. He directed state officials to assist farmers and communities economically affected by dry conditions.

David Robinson, agriculture commissioner for Merced County, said this week that any amount of rain is a welcome sight. He said those in the agricultural industry remain hopeful for a wet February and March.

Grass-growing season has nearly passed, and that means many area ranchers are buying more expensive feed for their animals. If a deluge comes next month, ranchers may be able to salvage some of the growing season.

Farmers of permanent crops such as almonds, walnuts and grapes are dipping into well water earlier than usual. Many are also dependent on the San Luis Reservoir and Lake McClure, which are both low after three dry years.

The state’s snowpack is 12 percent of normal, according to measurements by the California Department of Water Resources. The northern and central Sierra snowpack provides about a third of California’s water supply.

State climatologist Michael Anderson said 1.53 inches of rain was recorded from October through December, the lowest aggregate total in records dating back to 1895.

The drought is also an issue for 17 rural communities with water sources vulnerable to running dry within 100 days, according to the California Department of Public Health. One of those communities is Whispering Pines Apartments, a Mariposa County apartment complex where water is regulated by the state.