s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

A powerful storm blew into the region Friday with expectations of bringing up to 10 inches of much-needed rainfall in the northwestern Sonoma County hills and more than 4 inches on the parched Santa Rosa Plain, the largest rainfall the drought-withered North Bay has seen in nearly 14 months.

And two more storms are lining up next week — one could hit Wednesday and one next weekend, each bringing up to an inch of rain to Santa Rosa, according to forecasts.

"This is a real fine start," said Sonoma grain farmer Norm Yenni, whose pastures and fields had turned to bare dirt coming out of 2013, the driest year on record in the area. "We need it to come such that it will soak in."

The last time the region received such a good soaking was in late 2012, with the pre-Christmas storms of Dec. 21-23, which brought 5.44 inches of rain to Santa Rosa.

Since then it has been a dry, dry run that has resulted in an official drought designation while dropping the region's lakes and rivers to dangerously low levels. From Humboldt County south the hills are a summertime shade of dull brown.

Santa Rosa received just 8.71 inches of rain in 2013, according to Press Democrat records. Average rainfall in a calendar year is 32.22 inches.

In just 48 hours this week, Santa Rosa received 1.56 inches of rain: .72 of an inch Friday through 4 p.m. and .84 on Thursday.

While this storm helps, it's far from enough to end the current drought plaguing the state.

"The drought is still on and all efforts to limit consumption need to be the top in our minds," said Supervisor Efren Carrillo. The supervisors also sit on the board of directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which has been urging the cities that rely on its water to cut consumption by at least 20 percent to save dwindling supplies in Lake Sonoma.

The agency says that Lake Sonoma has about a year's worth of water left before it will be forced to ration supply to the cities. Lake Mendocino, meanwhile, has fallen so low that the agency has cut releases from the dam into the Russian River to a bare minimum, forcing cities on the upper Russian River, from Healdsburg to Ukiah, to consider mandatory water conservation measures for their residents.

The agency said the weekend storm should recharge the reservoirs a little bit, but warned that the ground is so dry that much of the water will soak into the dirt rather than run off into the lakes.

The National Weather Service calculates rainfall by looking at a "water year," from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next. On that basis, Santa Rosa would usually be at around 22 inches by this point in a normal season, said Steve Austin, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Monterey.

"For Santa Rosa, if we get the projected rainfall we expect .<TH>.<TH>. by Monday, you'll still be nearly 15 inches below normal," he said.

While the major storm was only a marginal relief for water managers suppling cities, it was a major relief for the area's farmers, particularly livestock ranchers. They had been facing a season without being able to grow any of their own pasture, forcing them to turn to the more expensive option of buying feed elsewhere.

Bodega rancher Joe Pozzi said the rain that had fallen by late Friday was promising to put some welcome green on the hills and pastures.

"It's definitely saturating the ground, and if we have some warm weather after that, we'll start to see some good growth," he said.

If the new storms materialize next week, farmers could start to see some water flowing back into dry ponds as well, easing their reliance on trucked-in water to supply their livestock.

This rainfall is a "Pineapple Express" type of storm, meaning it is very wet and not so cold, and could also bring winds up to 25 mph in the hills at times. That could lead to falling trees, broken power lines and power outages, Austin said.

In the Sierra Nevada, rain, moderate and heavy snowfall and strong winds are in the forecast and chains have been required in certain areas, according to the CHP. A winter storm warning has been issued for the western slopes through Saturday afternoon.

By Monday, the weather should clear.

Standing water and flooding of small creeks and in the usual low-lying spots was expected and had started to build in a few areas Friday afternoon, said CHP Officer Jon Sloat.

The number of vehicle collisions Friday accelerated as the day progressed and the rain fell harder.

"I haven't even counted the number of crashes. We're just going from another to another to another," Sloat said.

The vast majority involved vehicles spinning out and hitting something. There were no serious injury crashes reported through Friday evening.

Austin issued a reminder that no one should abandon water conservation efforts just because of some heavy rainfall.

He suggested residents put out large trash cans to capture as much rainfall as possible. After the storm is done, lids should be clamped down to keep out mosquitoes.

"Grab it. Grab it while you can," said Austin. "Dip into it in the summertime and water your potted plants."