Storm Fills Reservoirs – Drought Fears Persist

Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer,
February 23, 2009

A steady rainfall over the weekend helped bring California a lot closer to its normal levels of precipitation for the year – and more rain is on its way this week.

Still, officials cautioned, it’s too early to tell whether the state will have a drought.

The state’s rainfall total for the year late Sunday was at 90 percent of normal, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Benjamin. Only two weeks ago, rainfall levels were at about 60 percent of normal.

But, Benjamin added: “Rainfall is only one part of the drought equation. There are a lot more factors.”

One is the fact that California has had several years where rainfall for the year fell short of normal. “It’s like having your checkbook overdrawn,” Benjamin said, adding, “This year you may add a normal (or above normal) amount of funds, but you might still be short.”

Another factor is water management and conservation, Benjamin said.

Still another factor is that a sudden drenching may produce a lot of runoff – but that runoff may not always go into the watersheds and reservoirs. It sometimes floods channels or ends up in storm drains.

“A lot of rain at once doesn’t always mean you’re going to fill in the appropriate containers,” he said.

San Francisco, which received about an inch of rain Sunday, was at 85 percent of normal rainfall for the year by late Sunday.

“The normal should be 16.12 inches – we have gotten 13.72 inches,” Benjamin said.

San Rafael got 2.4 inches of rain, Olema 3.9 inches, Oakland 1.2 inches and Mount Barnabe, in Marin County, 5 inches.

“There’s definitely been a fair amount of rain out of this little system,” Benjamin said.

Light rain is expected today – and showers are expected throughout the week, Benjamin said. Next weekend, there may be even more rain, he added.

The weekend drenching caused problems on Bay Area highways and also in the air, delaying flights for up to two hours at San Francisco International Airport.

Several local roadways had minor flooding, and numerous fender benders tied up weekend traffic. Flights in and out of San Francisco were delayed all day Sunday as wind, rain and decreased visibility slowed air traffic.

A falling tree killed a Sonoma County woman about 11:30 a.m. Sunday as she walked before church on Freestone Flat Road, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department said. The name of the woman, a Freestone resident in her 40s, was not released pending notification of family.

The storm may have contributed to the capsizing of a boat in rough waters off the San Mateo County coast. A fisherman was reported missing and was still unaccounted for Sunday night.

In the higher elevations, the warm storm dropped rain on some lower ski slopes, with the snow level pushed up to 7,500 to 8,000 feet.

Chronicle staff writer Demian Bulwa contributed to this report. E-mail Jill Tucker at