State

Jardine: Typhoon just the beginning

Blasts from the past:

RAIN DANCE — Last week's record single-day rainfall enabled scientists to show off their new toy: satellite technology that allows them to predict when heavy storms are headed our way.

Their infrared map showed a thin strip of red and purple depicting a moisture-heavy band that dumped 21 inches of rain on the coast south of Santa Cruz and nearly 2 inches on Modesto. This image of the "atmospheric river" gave the effect of a garden hose pointed right at the central part of the state.

Between sensors floating in the ocean and satellites that record the data, they can predict whether we can expect heavy, wet winters or dry spells. In other words, they can give the Farmer's Almanac a run for its money.

The folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been trying for years to get the public to take them seriously and to prepare for rough winters when they tell you to. Maybe now ... .

In the summer of 1997, Dr. Ants Leetmaa of NOAA's climate prediction center predicted a heavy 1997-98 rainfall year because of the El Niño effect. El Niño occurs when water temperatures in areas of the Pacific are significantly higher than in non-El Niño years. El Niños happen about every two to five years, and the warming usually lasts about a year.

I happened to be on assignment in Washington, D.C., in February 1998 when his prediction became a reality. Leetmaa wasn't really gloating when he spoke at a news conference. It only seemed that way.

"Clearly, we can't stop it from happening," he said. "But we can warn people. The state and federal governments went to great lengths to warn people. Fortunately for my career, but

unfortunately for California, the predictions were correct."

And boy, were they. That February, Modesto received 8.9 inches of rain, a record for any month of the year. Seasonal rainfall in Modesto reached 17.80 inches, which was more than double the seasonal average at that time of year. Swollen creeks in the Southern San Joaquin Valley flooded, briefly closing 45 miles of Highway 99.

Residents of southwest Merced, who had lived in their neighborhoods for 40 years without experiencing flooding, were flooded out several times that year.

Just when it seemed the weather would ease after a springlike April, huge storms hit in May, bringing more record rainfall and even a tornado.

And in June — June, mind you — Bear Valley still had 4 feet of snow coating the meadow along Highway 4.

This past July, NOAA announced that El Niño is back, and with it a potentially volatile winter of 2009-10. Last week's storm, it seems, could have been the exhibition season.

So the next time the experts predict a long, wet winter, believe 'em.

BEEN THERE BEFORE — Modesto Board of Education incumbent Cindy Marks is no stranger to controversy around election time. Earlier this month, she received a letter signed by Board President Steve Grenbeaux and Vice President Kim Spina in which they accused her of violating the board's Governance Team Handbook, which requires that any communication from board members to staff funnel through Superintendent Arturo Flores.

Marks claims she's the victim of a politically motivated action, since Grenbeaux made the letter public while she is campaigning for re-election.

If not for a Superior Court judge in 2005, though, Marks wouldn't be on the board to be rebuked. She and another former incumbent, Robin Brown, missed the Aug. 12 filing deadline — the drop- dead date for a race with incumbents. They claimed they had been told they had until Aug. 17, the filing date for races with no incumbents. The city clerk said the information was clearly spelled out in each candidate's packet.

Marks and Brown went to court (Aug. 26, 2005), and Judge William Mayhew gave them until 3 p.m. that day to file. There were three open seats that year. Longtime board member Kate Nyegaard chose not to seek another term. In November, Marks retained her seat. Brown did not, finishing behind challengers Steve Collins and Belinda Rolicheck.

A SAD NOTE — In July, I wrote about little Christina Vega, a Modesto baby born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning the left side of her heart was underdeveloped. Missing a ventricle, her heart couldn't pump enough blood to supply the oxygen her body needed.

She was given only months to live, but survived to enjoy her first birthday — and only birthday party — July 11 with 70 friends and relatives attending.

Christina died Saturday at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. The family incurred numerous expenses in traveling to and from Modesto to be with her throughout her short life. The Terry Reynolds in Trust for Christina M. Vega fund remains open. Contributions can be made through any Bank of America branch.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com

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