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Rain worries abound
Unseasonably warm and dry weather was a welcome boon to local residents looking to spend time outdoors the first weeks of 2012, but also a cause for concern to growers who rely on wet winters for bountiful harvests.

Local parks were filled with the sights and sounds of families at play on Thursday. Many of the adults and children at the park were able to enjoy the day sans jackets, as the temperature reached a record high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Record breaking temperatures began on Wednesday, when the 1986 record of 64 degrees was broken with a daily high of 65. The normal temperature for this time of the year is around 52 degrees.

The warm weather would be all right, if it would only rain. Year to date precipitation on Wednesday was 1.88 recorded inches, said National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson, compared to a normal rainfall of 4.59 inches. As of Wednesday, the Modesto area (which includes Ceres) was at 41 percent of normal rainfall, compared to last year's 157 percent of normal rainfall.

According to the website,, rain is not expected until Jan. 20 - maybe.

The dry conditions have prompted the Turlock Irrigation District board yesterday to offer an early irrigation beginning on Jan. 19 to satisfy growers' needs. The early irrigation period is expected to last about 10 days and is dependent on weather conditions.

The board approved a charge of $15 per acre-foot. Growers will be able to begin placing water orders on Jan. 18 by calling 883-8456.

"The main concern on our end is... what happens going forward?" said TID spokesperson Herb Smart. "We're not necessarily worried, but they way things are looking, even if we experience extreme rains from this time forward, the best we can expect is an average water year."

The TID Board of Directors considered opening irrigation from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31 at its board meeting held Tuesday. The last time TID had winter irrigation was in February 2007, Smart said, when conditions were roughly similar to this year.

Not only is the lack of rain causing concern, but this season's snow drought has raised questions about impacts on water supply, ski resorts and agriculture across the state and nationwide.

According to, only 22 percent of the nation was covered by snow on Jan. 4.

A snow depth analysis on Jan. 4 from 2004-2012 reveals the smallest area of the U.S. is covered by snow this year. The year 2007 ranks as the second smallest area of the U.S. with snow cover of about 27 percent.

The Intermountain West, especially the Sierra of California and the mountains of Nevada and Utah, shows a substantial snow drought this year when compared to normal and past years. The northern Plains and the upper Great Lakes are other areas that have little snow cover compared to past years.

According to the California Department of Water Resources, a snow survey on Tuesday, suggests one of the lowest mountain snowpacks on record for the date.

The statewide snowpack's water content was found to be 19 percent of the Jan. 3 average and only 7 percent of the average April 1 average. The snowpack is usually at its peak early in April before melting in the spring.

Mountain snow that melts in the spring and summer accounts for about one third of the water for California's households, farms and industries, reported the California DWR.

"Fortunately, we have most of winter ahead of us, and our reservoir storage is good," stated DWR Director Mark Cowin in a recent press release. Expert Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark, who specializes in forecasting the weather in the West, analyzed the snow depth this year in the West compared to normal.

While snowfall amounts have been well below normal this season across the Sierra to the mountains of Utah, snow amounts were above normal across this same area last winter.

"After last year's huge increases in the reservoirs, one year of drought may not bring massive changes in water allocations," explained Clark of the reservoir water storage.

"The weather pattern we have seen for over the last month really does not change noticeably over the next couple of weeks . . . I see no reason why there is much to be optimistic about seeing a major recovery in the snow deficit the rest of the winter."

"The big impact in the short term is on the ski industry," said Clark.

The National Weather Service is predicting continued dry conditions for Turlock throughout the weekend and into next week, with slightly lower temperatures. Average highs will be around 57 degrees for the next six days.