North Coast's historically dry winter ends with a whimper

  • At Lake Sonoma Marina, Friday March 21, 2014 Marina employee Ralph Folk, left and his dog Zeuss help William Flores move a dock in to position at the launch ramp. The reservoir is still three quarters full, but for the first time since the lake was filled, the dock was moved to accommodate boaters after launching a boat. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Most folks in Cazadero, where 100 inches of rain a year is not big deal, measure every inch in gauges at their homes and discuss their results.

"Everybody's comparing all the time when it rains," said Don Berry, a Cazadero native whose great-grandfather bought the town in the 1880s.

But there was comparatively little to talk about this winter, even in the coastal hills of Sonoma County, where incoming storms typically drop sheets of rain.

According to the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, California's North Coast Region — defined as a narrow strip of land running from the southwest corner of Sonoma County to the Oregon border — got just 12.6 inches of rain from December through February, the region's third-driest winter in history.

The coast's driest winter was in 1977, when 9.3 inches fell. The wettest winter brought 59.5 inches in 1956.

The North Central Region, which includes most of Sonoma County and also runs to the Oregon border, received 12.8inches, making December-February the 10th-driest winter in 119 years, the climate center found.

There's a bit of rain expected for Sonoma County next week, but the latest long-term forecast puts the entire West Coast in the only zone in the lower 48 states with a "below normal" probability of rain for the next three months, according to the National Weather Service.

With the Redwood Empire's reservoirs only half to three-quarters full and water managers calling for conservation, hope for meaningful moisture is turning toward the prospect of an El Ni? system setting up this summer or fall.

Accuweather meteorologist Randy Adkins said it is "fairly likely" that an El Ni? "of some magnitude" will occur. "We could be looking at some relief from the drought," he said.

But there is no guarantee that El Ni?, a warming of water in the tropical Pacific Ocean, will bring above-average rainfall to California, Adkins said.

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