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January storms good news for Mother Lode

Are your tired of nonstop rain and snow? Has the wet January put you in the grips of seasonal affective disorder? Have you chained enough tires and shoveled enough driveways for a lifetime?

Are you longing to hear some good news?

Well, we have some: As depressing and dreary as last month's storms may have been, they are paying dividends we may appreciate in the months ahead. The series of storms have added much needed water to reservoirs in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, have beefed up what a month ago was an anemic snow pack, will cut summer fire danger and may make gardening a pleasure.

But first off, let's put January in perspective: It wasn't that wet.

Sonora has seen 27 wetter Januaries, and the 9.31 inches that fell last month was less than half the record 21.30 inches it received in the first month of 1911. And, hey, it rained on only 18 of the month's 31 days.

It was, however, about 50 percent beyond the average January rainfall of 6.38 inches, and it nearly doubled the 2007-08 season total to 18.68 inches. Finally, it erased drought fears, lifting weather-year rain gauges to beyond seasonal averages for the first time in many months.

Absent a protracted heat wave that squanders our banked snowpack or a screeching halt in precipitation that extends deep into spring, we'll do OK. A storm per week for the rest of the rainy season would leave us sitting pretty, but we'd be OK with less-than-average totals through spring.

Can you take any more positive news? Good, because below is a point-by-point rundown of the benefits of our January storms:

• Water: "It's a positive," said Tuolumne Utilities District General Manager Pete Kampa, adding that the increased snowpack in the Stanislaus River watershed bodes well for a full Lyons Reservoir, the district's main source. "It appears we'll have adequate supplies to meet our needs," added Larry Diamond, Calaveras County Water District assistant manager.

• Fire: Barry Rudolph, a Cal Fire battalion chief stationed in Sonora, said the heavy rains bode for a safer fire season. Timber and brush will stay moist longer and burn slower. Drainage courses may remain damp, potentially slowing fires. And lakes and ponds used by bucket-equipped helicopters to fight fires will likely be full longer.

• Trees: The fortified snowpack and a gradual spring melt, said Tuolumne County Master Gardener Rebecca Miller-Cripps, will take pressure off pines and other native trees. Also, full reservoirs would mean no rationing and more water for gardens and lawns.

• Roads: Because the January rains were gradual instead coming in one or two major deluges, said Cy Hoblitt of the Tuolumne County Public Works Department, roads weathered the storms with no more than minor damage.

• Skiing: The storms have left Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley with many feet of new snow. Skiers who have braved the weather, said Reuben Chirnside, Dodge's planning and development director, have enjoyed "great conditions." More importantly, he added, the accumulated 10-foot snowpack "makes our season secure probably into April."

Bottom line: Yes, the Mother Lode needs more rain. But we received enough in the past month to enjoy a couple of weeks of sunshine — if we are lucky enough to get it — without guilt.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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