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Could it be 2012 all over again? That’s the year Santa Rosa was drenched by nearly 10 inches of rain in December before Mother Nature abruptly turned off the tap, continuing the three-year drought that still hasn’t ended, despite another soggy December.

With rain falling on 13 of the month’s first 15 days and now totaling 10.64 inches, folks who may be tiring of cloudbursts, gray skies, umbrellas and last week’s atmospheric river could well be wondering if the drought is done.

Not until the Sierra is blanketed in snow and the state’s major reservoirs are full, water managers said Monday, noting that neither of those drought-busting conditions is close to reality.

“We’re having a great, wet December. It’s fantastic,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which delivers Russian River water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The latest storm dropped 1.3 inches of rain on Santa Rosa during the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Monday, and more rain is expected to hit the area today and Wednesday, potentially bringing an additional 2 inches, the National Weather Service forecast.

But California, with 80 percent of the state under extreme or exceptional drought last week, needs sustained precipitation through the winter and spring to make up for a 36-month shortfall.

“It’s a deep hole to climb out of,” said Samantha Dorsey, farming manager at McEvoy Ranch in the Marin County hills west of Petaluma.

All six irrigation ponds at the 550-acre olive and grape ranch were full and overflowing into San Antonio Creek on Monday, she said. A month ago, the ponds were 31 percent full. Dorsey said she felt a “tremendous sense of relief,” tempered by the concern that rainfall is still only one-third of normal and more is needed to maintain soil moisture for the 2015 crop.

Santa Rosa’s rainfall deficit — the difference between actual and average precipitation — was 34.53 inches for the period from December 2011 through Sunday, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with the National Climatic Data Center, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency.

That means it would take nearly an average season’s rainfall, which is 36.28 inches in Santa Rosa, to balance the shortfall on local rain gauges.

“Basically, you’re missing a year of rainfall,” Crouch said.

But December’s storms made a dent, he said, noting that the three-year precipitation deficit at the end of November was 41.43 inches, the largest deficit ever for Santa Rosa and nearly double the statewide deficit of 23.5 inches. The past three years are the driest in California weather history dating back 120 years and one wet month won’t blot out the deficit.

Wetter areas like Sonoma County amass larger rainfall deficits than arid areas like San Diego, which typically get scant precipitation, Crouch said.

Thursday’s deluge, which flooded downtown Healdsburg and local roads, accompanied by winds that tore down trees and cut off power, accounted for 5.13 inches of rain in Santa Rosa, nearly half of the month’s total to date.

December is typically the city’s second-wettest month, with an average of 7.03 inches of rain, falling fractionally behind January’s average of 7.05 inches.

But Sherwood recalled the especially wet December of 2012, when Santa Rosa received 9.86 inches of rain, followed by a paltry 1.16 inches in January 2013 and leading to a meager 8.71 inches for that year.

“In January, it dried up,” he said.

Fast forward two years, and the region’s two major reservoirs are taking on storm runoff, with Lake Sonoma near Healdsburg at 70 percent of capacity and smaller Lake Mendocino near Ukiah at 67 percent.

The bigger picture, however, shows how far California is from breaking the drought.

The state’s three largest reservoirs are less than one-third full, with Shasta Lake on the Sacramento River at 31 percent of capacity, Lake Oroville on the Feather River at 32 percent and Trinity Lake on the Trinity River at 29 percent on Monday.

The Sierra snowpack, which provides about 30 percent of California’s water, registered 3 inches of water content, just 41 percent of average to date, the Department of Water Resources said Monday. The Northern Sierra, which feeds the major reservoirs, was at 36 percent of normal.

Sierra ski resorts are cranking up, but the water content in the mountains is low due to warm weather that has limited snow to the upper elevations while rain falls at lower levels, said Ted Thomas, the water department spokesman.

“We need a good blanket of snow down to 6,000 feet,” he said.

Overall, California needs 150 percent of normal precipitation to make up the rainfall deficit this year, he said. December is off to a good start but holds no guarantee of what’s to come.

“California can turn wet or dry on a dime,” Thomas said.

After some rain around the region Monday, the forecast calls for intermittent precipitation for the rest of the week, bringing the week’s total to as much as 3 inches in and around Santa Rosa, and slightly higher in the coastal hills, said Diana Henderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Rainfall in the Ukiah area and around the Lake Mendocino watershed is likely to be lower, according to the weather service office in Eureka, though rainfall for the calendar year is only about an inch shy of normal, meteorologist Doug Boushey said.

Another good storm or two like the one that deluged the region last Thursday, raising the Russian River just above flood stage in Guerneville, could even put enough water behind the dam at Lake Mendocino to tip operational management from water supply mode into flood control status, permitting water releases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure sufficient capacity to prevent future flooding.

The lake level is still more than 22,000 acre feet below the water supply ceiling — or almost twice the 12,768 acre feet added to the reservoir last week.

But the sting remains from two years ago, when fears of coming storms prompted New Year’s releases from Lake Mendocino that cost the region dearly when no more rain actually came.

That’s the inherent conflict, said Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. There are “two competing demands — flood control and water supply — and they need the same space behind the dam,” Ralph said.

“It’s a double-edged sword, if you will,” said J.D. Hardesty, a spokesman for the Army Corps. “To retain too much water invites disaster if a large storm arrives before we can safely empty the flood control pool. The other edge is we release the water to allow safe operations, and then we enter into another dry period.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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