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.