On Sunday, as that furry forecaster Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, it finally began to feel like the season normally does in Sonoma County.
A cool, steady rain fell on the region starting around 6 a.m., and by 4 p.m., 0.63 inches had accumulated at the Santa Rosa airport, according to National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson. Snow was reported in the town of Angwin, on Highway 29 in Napa County near Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, and on Highway 175, which was closed for a portion of Sunday morning because of the weather, the CHP said. Some mountainous areas near Guerneville and Cazadero saw as much as an inch of rain, Anderson said.
Sunday's rainfall was not much by normal winter standards, but in the driest weather year on record in the county, many found it cause for excitement -#8212; and a hopeful sign that weather patterns which have long shunted rain farther north might be finally shifting.
A high-pressure system has for months deflected the winter rain that would normally fall on the North Coast and recharge streams, lakes and groundwater. The lack of precipitation has worsened already dry conditions resulting from low rainfall in the previous year. Just one-tenth of an inch fell at the Santa Rosa Airport this January compared with an average January rainfall of 5.93, said Randy Adkins, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.
"That's a whopping 2 percent of normal," he said.
The drought has parched the landscape into a stubbly dun when it would normally be lush and green, forcing ranchers to buy hay and truck in water for their animals. With the county's reservoirs at historic lows, water officials and lawmakers are asking for voluntary and sometimes mandatory water conservation.
Today, a Sonoma County Water Agency panel is set to vote on a request that all its contractors, including the cities and districts that provide water to 600,000 people, voluntarily cut water use by 20 percent. Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Willits have already imposed mandatory reductions in water use.
Today's rain, about six times that which fell last month, did not significantly ease the region's water worries but reflected at least a temporary break in the dry weather pattern.
"The high-pressure system that has been in control for the last several months has broken somewhat," said Anderson, adding that it was expected to move back into place after Sunday's rain.
However, it will likely be weaker than it was before, allowing for the possibility of more significant rainfall next weekend, he said.