Sonoma County's record winter dry spell was briefly broken with light rain showers Wednesday, but ranchers and farmers remain concerned.
The severe lack of rainfall in the past three months puts agriculture in a very precarious position, said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
"Even if we get substantial rainfall over the next six weeks, there's still going to be very limited forage and range grasses growing to feed animals in the fall," McCorvey said. "Ranchers will again be forced to purchase additional hay to feed their animals."
Nearly an inch of rain fell in Santa Rosa on Thursday, and more than an inch fell in Cazadero, Guerneville and Sebastopol, according to AccuWeather. Rain showers will linger around the North Coast today, and another fast-moving storm will bring more rain tonight and Saturday, with dry weather set to return Sunday.
Precipitation for January through March in Santa Rosa totalled 3.83 inches -- the least rain for the period in the past 72 years, Press Democrat records show. The average rainfall for those winter months is around 16 inches.
"It's the driest start to the year on record in a lot of areas, even San Francisco, which is significant," said Logan Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "It's certainly concerning that we're starting out so dry."
February numbers put the month as the fourth-driest on record, with 0.40 inches of precipitation, a fraction of the 5.95 inches of rain during an average February, said Johnson.
While sporadic March rain showers managed to sprinkle the county with some water, ranchers and farmers are struggling to feed their herds due to lack of pasture.
"We've experienced virtually three months of drought-like conditions and very cold nights," McCorvey said. "It's cut the feed available for livestock down to 25 percent of normal."
The issue is magnified in part by several years of dry winters, which caused ranchers to reduce or even liquidate their herds, McCorvey said.