Silver lining in the storms bringing rain and snow

Union Democrat staff

Power outages, downed trees, flooded roads, black ice, traffic problems and the looming threat of low snow.

The nonstop storms of the past week have featured all of the above and more. You can't, walk, bicycle or run, convertible tops remain up, lawn chairs and patios are empty and all that "sunny California" stuff touted by the tourist industry lands somewhere between myth and mockery.

But look at the bigger picture, and a case could be made that this is the best weather of the year:

•The three-year California drought is under major assault, as reservoir levels and snowpacks rise. But it would take several more epic storms, experts say, to erase the damage a series of dry years have done.

•Ski resorts are in seventh heaven, as snow by the foot has piled up in the high country. And it won't take a whole lot more snow to set Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley up through spring.

•Although fire season seems an eternity away, experts say the January soaking could take at least some of the edge off the crackling desiccation that in past years turned our forests into disasters waiting to happen.

So when you wake up to yet another dreary, wet day, look deep into those clouds and you'll see some very bright silver lining:

Water: For the Tuolumne Utilities District, the news is nothing but good. The storm-fed snowpack, said TUD engineer, Glen Nunnelley, is like money in the bank.

A good series of storms like this one will keep Lyons Reservoir, the district's primary water source, feeding the ditch system and supplying its more than 13,000 customers well into the summer. In later July and August, the district relies on supplemental water from Pinecrest, another snowpack fed reservoir.

At the Calaveras County Water District, Utilities Manager Bill Perley is thankful for the rain, but hopes for weeks more of it.

"We're a lot better off than we were a few days ago," he said, pointing out that 2,300 cubic feet per second of water were rushing into New Hogan Reservoir at the height of last week's storm. "But we have a long way to go."

New Hogan, a key west county water source for CCWD, has gained more than 7,000 acre-feet of water during the storm, but still stands at only about a fifth of its 319,000 acre-foot capacity.

Ski resorts: Dodge Ridge reported receiving nearly an inch of snow an hour for the first three days of the storm series. "Things are great," said Jeff Hauff of the resort's marketing department, adding that more than 200 inches have fallen so far this season and a snowpack of better than five feet remains.

Bear Valley has a pack of more than six feet and has reported major accumulations during the storms. The onset of clear weather later this week is likely to bring huge crowds and a major bump to the economies of high country communities.

Fire danger: Yes, confirmed Cal Fire Capt. Gordon Winningham, rain in January will increase fuel moisture in trees and brush and - especially if the storms continue - decrease mid-summer fire danger.

And there's one more benefit: The wind and rains uproot trees, knock down limbs and generally expose the weakest and most fire-prone vegetation in your yard.

"When the weather improves, it's a good time to get out on your property and work on your 100 feet of clearance," Winningham said. "There's no heat, no dust and, because of the wet soil, brush is easy to uproot."

So when the rain and clouds show up for yet another morning, be thankful for another beautiful California day.

The Union Democrat
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