Brief storm provides little relief to Valley water

Tulare County is at 100% of normal for the current water year to date but window is closing on rainy season

TULARE COUNTY – This week’s storm was exciting and rare but it wasn’t nearly enough water to erase one of the driest Januarys on record.

Tuesday’s rainfall started out the morning with a sprinkle but quickly dropped to less than a drip, according to the National Weather Service station in Hanford. It picked up again at lunch time and by midafternoon it briefly blustered with strong winds and heavy rainfall before the spicket was turned off again. During the afternoon downpour, the temperature dropped to 47 degrees, winds picked up to 13 mph and humidity reached 83% to create hailstorm, leaving yards around the county looking like they were thawing out from some light snow.

In fact, the storm triggered a freeze warning in the early morning now until Saturday. Temperatures for most of the Valley are expected to dip into the 20s at through Thursday morning and possibly as low as 28 degrees on Friday and Saturday morning. The National Weather Service said farmers should take precautions to prevent crop damage and residents should drain and wrap above ground water pipes to prevent them from bursting. In-ground sprinkler systems should also be drained to protect them from freezing.

Unfortunately, total rainfall for the day was just a fraction of an inch. There was hope the storm might bring more water to soak the Valley following a rainless January. Climatetoolbox.org precipitation datasets show January 2022 was the driest year on record for Tulare County, much of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Tulare County normally expects over an inch and a half of rain in both January and February, according to the National Weather Service, but prior to this week, it hasn’t rained since Dec. 30.

The California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) latest snow survey at Philips Station in the Sierra Nevada has the statewide snowpack at 92% of average for Feb. 1, compared to 160% at the end of 2021. DWR Director Karla Nemeth said California is definitely still in a drought. 

Surveyors for DWR take regular measurements of the Sierra snowpack during the winter. Their Dec. 30, 2021 survey reveals that snow depth was at 78.5 inches and 20 inches of snow water equivalent. At the time that was 202% of average. The driest January and parched February have degraded some optimism toward a regular water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year. The good news is this water year has provided Tulare County just over 5 inches of rain, or 100% of an average water year to date.

The Southern Sierra snowpack is not faring as well as the Northern Sierra. Water supply forecasts for the south San Joaquin Valley are below average due to the lack of rain and snow in the region. December, January and February are typically the wettest months of California’s water year, leaving little time for the state to recover the last two winters, the fifth- and second-driest on record.

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